Cloistered by Ravelled Bones and Ruined Walls

Very Cool!

GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS: Dreamcatcher of Fiction Books

To RAVEL means both to Disentangle and to Entangle.

CLOISTERED BY RAVELLED BONES AND RUINED WALLS is a new book I am proud to share with luminaries Polish and Romanian.
Also my own way of unravelling Brexit.

MOUNT ABRAXAS 2017

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BEYOND THE BALCONY

by DF Lewis
Eight fictions

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Vistas of Ruin and Decay

A Ruinenlust Journey Through Weird Fiction

by Sławomir Wielhorski

This Journey features Vistas of Edgar Allan Poe, Stefan Grabinski, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Eddie M. Angerhuber, Joel Lane, Wojciech Gunia and much else.

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“Life is an abandoned Amusement, a pleasure of ruins. Few are the solitary souls with a penchant for the sublime who spend their existence being irresistibly attracted to crumbling buildings and abandoned places. This book is an ode to this particular attraction – the feeling of Ruinenlust. Part fiction collection, part ensemble of essays, the volume presents a collaboration of two minds preoccupied with…

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Driven to Madness with Fright: Further Notes on Horror Fiction by S. T. Joshi, 2016

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Cover art by Allen Koszowski, 2016

 

Table of Contents

I. The Classics
From Gothic to Weird
The Canon of American Weird Fiction
Weird Poetry, Then and Now
Poe as Revolutionary
The Life and Work of Ambrose Bierce
A Biography of the Mind
Shirley Jackson as a Classic

II. Some Contemporaries
Terror in the Northwest
Campbell and Lovecraft
Rain, Rain, Everywhere
Fifty Years of Ramsey Campbell
Terror in a Sentence
The Sublime and the Ridiculous
Just Like the Movies
A Slow-Moving Tsunami
A Modern “Heart of Darkness”
Sculptures in Prose
The Mystery Man of Weird Fiction
Spanning the Genres with William F. Nolan
Of Revenants and Seedy Taverns
Road Dogs and Iron Dead

III. Some Anthologies
Driven to Madness with Fright
A Smorgasbord of Weird
Chambers, Lovecraft, and Pastiche
The Anthologies of Jason V Brock and William F. Nolan

IV. H. P. Lovecraft: His Disciples and His Critics
The Emergence of H. P. Lovecraft
How Not to Edit Lovecraft
The Derleth Mythos
The Lovecraft Cult
The World of Lovecraft Fandom
The Return of Cosmic Horror
Old and New Cthulhu
Is the Well Running Dry?
A Distinctive Talent
Working Together
Darrell Schweitzer and the Mythos
“Life Is More Horrible Than Death”
Conflicted about Lovecraft

Sources
I. The Classics
II. Some Contemporaries
III. Some Anthologies
IV. H. P. Lovecraft: His Disciples and His Critics


An Excerpt:

Chapter 1

From Gothic to Weird

The recent effloresence of neo-Gothic fiction—the literature of fear, terror, wonder, awe, and the supernatural—is the product of centuries, perhaps millennia, of work by a wide array of artists both celebrated and obscure. It is, after all, in the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1700 b.c.e.) that we find such motifs as the superhero, the quest for eternal life, battles with monsters, and the like. About a millennium later, the Odyssey is rife with creatures of eccentric cast, from the sorceress Circe to Polyphemus the Cyclops to the twin horrors of Scylla and Charybdis. Greek literature and myth regales us with the Gorgon Medusa, the Furies, the harpies; ghosts stalk through the most elevated of Greek tragedies. Dante and Milton drew only partly upon scripture, but more upon their own imaginations, in depicting the terrors of hell and its demons. The ghost in Hamlet and the witches in Macbeth are familiar to all.

We must, however, be careful not to let our zeal for tracing anticipations of contemporary Gothic elements get the better of us. The literature of terror can only be said to have achieved independent existence when it has substantially segregated itself from religion, myth, and folklore, however much it may draw upon these rich storehouses of belief and ritual. In particular, the literature of the supernatural can only be said to have become viable when, in a given culture, there becomes a relatively clear sense of the natural. If ghosts, goblins, and vampires are commonly considered to be components of the everyday scene, the depiction of them in literature cannot be considered supernatural because it would not constitute a defiance of the natural laws that render such entities beyond the bounds of the possible. It is for this reason that, without perhaps being entirely aware of it, literary scholars have rightly declared that Gothicism commenced as an independent literary mode with the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). For it was only by the middle of the eighteenth century that human knowledge had advanced to the point where it could, with some confidence, be asserted that creatures such as the ghost or the werewolf were definitively outside the limits of nature.

It is often forgotten that this original Gothic movement—running, roughly, from 1764 to the 1820s—did not get under way at once upon the publication of Walpole’s curious little novel. It required the added impetus of German Romanticism to bring to the fore such literary figures as Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Mary Shelley, and Charles Robert Maturin, not to mention a host of lesser talents. This movement shares many similarities with the “horror boom” of the 1970s and 1980s, in that it was energized by a quite small number of toweringly original writers and a motley crew of crude imitators who sought to capitalize on the sudden popularity of this literary genre; and there is a further similarity in that the Gothic movement could not in any sense be said to be uniform or monolithic, but quickly fragmented into numerous subgenres and offshoots. The element of supernatural terror was by no means dominant, and Ann Radcliffe (perhaps unwisely) rejected the supernatural altogether in her work, opting instead for what has been called the “explained supernatural,” where supernatural phenomena are suggested but are explained away (oftentimes in a highly unconvincing manner) at the end. Lewis and Maturin shrewdly avoided this deflation of the reader’s expectations, while Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), by transferring the locus of fear to radical new discoveries in science, could be said to have contributed significantly to the later creation of science fiction.

In a sense, the Gothic novelists were trying to have their cake and eat it too. While depicting the most outlandish incidents in their tales, they placed many of their narratives in the Middle Ages, at a time when—in their estimation—ignorance and superstition so dominated the populace that the representation of wondrous events in fiction could be thought to constitute a backhanded kind of psychological realism. More relevantly, the supernatural, in those works that featured it, was acknowledged as beyond the bounds of the real, but because it drew upon deep, vestigial instincts centred around the fear of death and the terrors of hell, it commanded a kind of quasi-belief that was the real secret to its success.

In the 1830s Edgar Allan Poe revolutionized the field both by confining the literature of terror exclusively to the short story and by bringing to that literature an entirely new and intense understanding of the psychology of fear. Poe’s greatest innovation, quite frankly, was his immense literary talent: any one of his best tales packs more of a punch than entire novels by the Gothicists. That initial wave of Gothic literature fell by the wayside very quickly, as Poe, both by precept and by example, championed the short story as the chosen vehicle for conveying terror. His great contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne was not quite so rigid in confining Gothicism to the short story; indeed, his House of the Seven Gables (1851) might be said to constitute one of the first instances in American literature in which the entire premise of the work is supernatural—the curse of the dying Matthew Maule on the entire Pyncheon family—although his execution of that premise leads more to wistful melancholy than to fear or horror. Fitz-James O’Brien and Ambrose Bierce followed Poe more closely, but in England Poe’s example of concision and intensity took much longer to find favor. If anyone today is capable of wading through Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Gothic novels, especially the immense A Strange Story (1862), they will find that his work is more in the nature of a philosophical tract than an excursion into the supernatural. J. Sheridan Le Fanu restricted the supernatural almost entirely to the short story or novella, while a legion of Victorian ghost story writers—Margaret Oliphant, Mrs. J. H. Riddell, Rhoda Broughton, Amelia B. Edwards, and many others—resurrected the ghost story with seemingly endless variations.

It was, however, at this juncture—the late nineteenth century—that we come upon some towering works of Gothicism that still color the popular imagination. Less than two decades separate the publication of such novels as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890/1891), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898)—the first two constituting imperishable examples of the doppelgänger motif, while the other two remain the canonical treatments of the vampire and the ghost, respectively. It is of some significance that three of these works are short novels at best, adhering to Poe’s notions of the “unity of effect” (which he believed possible only in the short story) but expansive enough to incorporate the interplay and development of character that is one of the distinguishing features of the novel. Indeed, one of the several literary failings of Dracula is probably its excessive length, to say nothing of the fact that its putative lead character, Count Dracula, remains offstage for large segments of the work.

What is most notable about this turn-of-the-century period is the degree to which mainstream literary figures chose to engage in Gothicism, either supernatural or non-supernatural, for the length of a tale or novel. A substantial number of the short stories and novellas of Henry James involve ghosts or the suspicion of ghosts, as do the tales of his friend and disciple Edith Wharton; such Americans as F. Marion Crawford (The Witch of Prague, 1891; Wandering Ghosts, 1911), Robert W. Chambers (The King in Yellow, 1895), the architect Ralph Adams Cram (Black Spirits and White, 1895), Sarah Orne Jewett, Gertrude Atherton, and Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman made vital contributions to the literature of terror; such of their British counterparts as Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Richard Marsh (The Beetle, 1897), H. Rider Haggard (She, 1887), and H. G. Wells did the same. And what do we make of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (1902)? Its concluding utterance by Kurtz, “The horror! The horror!” has become almost self-parodic, but this novella as a whole fuses the terrors of the external world—symbolized by the darkness of deepest Africa—and the terrors of the human mind as ably as any work in literature.

It was during this period that some of the most significant figures in supernatural horror—the Welshman Arthur Machen, the Irishman Lord Dunsany, the Englishmen Algernon Blackwood and M. R. James, and the American H. P. Lovecraft—emerged. Their work, very diverse in subject-matter, is united by a philosophical vision that found in the supernatural a means of conveying each author’s deepest metaphysical and moral vision. Machen, the implacable foe of science, which he believed was tearing the veils from the mystery of the universe, utilized the supernatural as a means of restoring the sense of wonder to the cosmos; Blackwood, not quite so hostile to the progress of human knowledge, nevertheless used his horror and fantasy fiction to envision a pantheistic unity of all nature; Dunsany was repelled by the onslaught of technology and commercialism and sought to depict otherworldly realms of beauty; and James, a relatively orthodox Christian, found in the ghost story a vehicle for moral accounts of the just punishment that descends upon sin and error.

Lovecraft, drawing upon the work of all his predecessors, dating back to Poe, infused the weird tale with a cosmic vision that remains his signature achievement. Recognizing that many of the standard motifs in supernatural fiction—the ghost, the witch, the vampire, the werewolf, the haunted house—had lost much of their potency because the advance of knowledge had rendered them virtually unusable in serious literature, Lovecraft refocused the locus of terror to the unbounded depths of the cosmos, thereby effecting a felicitous union with the burgeoning genre of science fiction.

Lovecraft was, of course, present at the birth of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, the first periodical devoted solely to weird fiction. Such of his colleagues as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and Donald Wandrei filled the pages of that magazine, and dozens of other pulps, with a wide array of writing that spanned the spectrum from psychological suspense to pure science fiction. And yet, it must be acknowledged frankly that the great bulk of material published in Weird Tales and other pulp magazines was subliterary rubbish that deserved the scorn it garnered from mainstream critics. Whether the refusal of mainstream magazines to publish weird material led to the birth of the pulps, or whether the pulps’ emergence led to the banishing of the weird from mainstream magazines, is a chicken-and-egg question that may be impossible to answer; but because the pulps were “popular” literature designed for a largely ill-educated public, the majority of their contents was hackneyed in conception and slipshod in execution. Only the very best of the pulp writers surmounted the hackwork of their fellow scribblers; but because they had few other outlets to publish their work, they became tarred with the same brush that depicted all the material in the pulps as beneath critical notice. The entire field of Gothic fiction thereby came to be considered a poor relation to mainstream literature.

This aesthetic cleavage was never quite so pronounced in England, perhaps because the unusual longevity of such writers as Blackwood and Dunsany, whose work continued to be received with respect. The continuing credibility of the ghost story helped to foster a vibrant and literarily viable tradition of supernatural writing that included such distinguished figures as Walter de la Mare, E. Nesbit, L. P. Hartley, John Buchan, Robert Hichens, Elizabeth Bowen, and May Sinclair. Dunsany’s work had the effect of segregating fantasy—a mode whereby the author creates his own realm of pure imagination—from supernatural horror; from the foundations he established came the later work of E. R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Curiously enough, the supernatural novel flourished after a fashion in the early twentieth century, whether at the hands of such an eccentric writer as William Hope Hodgson or in individual efforts by generally mainstream writers such as Barry Pain (An Exchange of Souls, 1911), Francis Brett Young (Cold Harbour, 1924), Herbert Gorman (The Place Called Dagon, 1927), and Leonard Cline (The Dark Chamber, 1927). M. R. James’s work inspired a small cadre of disciples who sought to build upon his tradition of the antiquarian ghost story, although few of these writers came close to matching James’s achievement. But the neo-Gothic novel all but faded out of existence by the 1930s, overwhelmed by the literary dominance of mimetic realism (Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner) or the Modernist movement that, while drawing upon fantasy and terror to some degree, generally scorned pure supernaturalism. D. H. Lawrence wrote a handful of weird tales, but these were cast in shade when compared with his immensely influential novels of love and death.

August Derleth and Donald Wandrei’s founding of Arkham House in 1939—initially to publish the work of Lovecraft in hardcover—was a mixed blessing: although the founders quickly proceed to publish other meritorious work from the pulp magazines, their press in some senses augmented the ghettoization of weird literature by restricting it to a small and insignificant audience. The demise of the pulps in the 1940s resulted from the emergence of the paperback book, and in this market some supernatural writers flourished—but only by writing work that could be marketed under other rubrics. Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury spanned the spectrum from science fiction to supernatural horror to pure fantasy, while Robert Bloch did the same but settled upon psychological suspense as his chosen mode of literary utterance. By the 1950s and 1960s they were joined by other writers such as Richard Matheson, Russell Kirk, Theodore Sturgeon, Charles Beaumont, and Rod Serling. Then, of course, there was the odd case of Shirley Jackson, whose work sat uneasily between the domains of mainstream fiction and psychological terror, lapsing finally into the supernatural with the stunning haunted house novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Critics rarely knew what to make of her unclassifiable work, with the result that she was largely ignored both by the mainstream community and by the cadre of Gothic devotees.

In England the picture was in some sense not quite so bleak—the flamboyant supernatural novels of Dennis Wheatley earned him a wide following if little critical recognition, while Gerald Kersh contributed his eccentric fusions of supernatural, psychological, and science-fictional terror—but in other ways was dire indeed, as Robert Aickman was virtually the sole practitioner of pure supernaturalism in the 1950s and 1960s. It was just at this time when the media were making their impress upon the literary development of the field. Although horror movies had been prevalent since the earliest days of the film industry—it was, indeed, the popularity of Dracula (1931) and other vampire films that raised Stoker’s novel to canonical status—the impact of film and television
upon literary work only began to be substantially felt in the 1960s. Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” (1959–64) enlisted the services of some of the best writers in the field, including Beaumont and Matheson, and it is arguable that it was this leavening of the popular audience for treatments of the supernatural that led to the spectacular and seemingly sudden emergence of horror as a best-selling phenomenon.

Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967), William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971), and Thomas Tryon’s The Other (1971) were all adapted into film, the first two being particularly noteworthy and popular. The synergy between film and literature gained particular force in the work of Stephen King, who for a time was the most remarkable phenomenon in the history of publishing. Virtually every one of his novels, beginning with Carrie (1974), achieved bestseller status and was adapted into a film or a television miniseries; he quickly became a brand name, a known quantity like a McDonald’s hamburger or Tide detergent. Other bestselling writers such as Peter Straub (Ghost Story, 1979) and Clive Barker (The Books of Blood, 1984–85) followed in his wake; a bit later, Dean R. Koontz and Anne Rice joined the ranks of the blockbusters. But this “horror boom”—which was, in reality, much more a marketing than an aesthetic phenomenon—had at least one unfortunate tendency: it impelled authors of all sorts to aim for popular rather than literary success, their goal being to reach the best-seller lists, not to produce work of genuine merit. The result was inevitable: a surfeit of the hackneyed, the uninspired, and the plainly trashy caused the entire field to implode, at least from a marketing perspective; publishers radically cut back on their horror offerings or abandoned them altogether.

The fact is that, during this entire period, any number of sincere, talented writers were working out of the limelight, and it is their work that will in the end survive and come to be seen as representative of the best that Gothicism has to offer. Ramsey Campbell, emerging from his early devotion to Lovecraft, has produced such a distinguished array of novels and tales from the 1970s to the present that he must be given serious consideration as the greatest horror writer of our time, and perhaps of all time. Not far behind are such writers as T. E. D. Klein, Thomas Ligotti, Dennis Etchison, and Thomas Tessier. And now that Gothicism has, to some degree, returned to its roots in the small press, such writers as Caitlín R. Kiernan, Norman Partridge, China Miéville, and Laird Barron are only the most prominent of a vibrant new crop of neo-Gothicists.

What the present volume demonstrates beyond all doubt is that Gothicism is a mode of writing that writers of many different stripes—whether it be predominantly mainstream writers like Toni Morrison, Peter Ackroyd, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood or genre veterans such as Campbell, King, Straub, Elizabeth Hand, Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, and Phil Rickman—can utilize to express themes, conceptions, and imagery beyond the purview of mimetic realism. Many of these writers draw upon the long heritage of Gothicism stretching back at least two centuries while at the same time remaining distinctively original in their manipulation of character and incident. The blurring or melding of genres is the order of the day, and if this sometimes results in critical difficulties in classification, it is nonetheless a benefit to those privileged readers who can find in neo-Gothicism some of the best that contemporary literature has to offer.

– S. T. Joshi, Driven to Madness with Fright: Further Notes on Horror Fiction, 2016

We Are Still Here — A Serious Indie Fright Fest! I Loved it.

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SPOILER ALERT!

Wow. What a great film. Very scary. Odd in places, but I recommend it!

In 1979, after the tragic death of their son Bobby in a car accident, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) have decided to move to a new home in rural New England in the hopes that it will bring them some closure. Paul especially hopes that it will be therapeutic for Anne, as the death has hit her particularly hard and caused her to spiral into a deep depression. However, as soon as they arrive Anne starts claiming that Bobby is present in the house and a neighbor named Cat (Connie Neer) covertly warns them to leave the house. The house itself is also the focus of some controversy in the area, as it was built in the 1800s by the Dagmar family as a funeral home. The Dagmars were reportedly run out of the village after the townspeople discovered that they were swindling their customers by selling the corpses and burying empty caskets.

Undeterred, Anne invites her friends May and Jacob Lewis (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden), as they are both spiritualists and could help contact Bobby, as well as explain the strange supernatural occurrences happening in the house. Upon their arrival the two couples go out to eat, during which time the Lewises’ son Harry (Michael Patrick) arrives with his girlfriend Daniella (Kelsea Dakota) – Soon after arriving Harry is killed by an apparition on the basement stairs while Daniella watches. She flees the house in horror and drives away, only to be killed a short distance away. The Lewises and the Sacchettis head home, after which Cat’s husband Dave (Monte Markham) arrives at the restaurant, murders a waitress, and then angrily discusses the Dagmar house with the restaurant’s bartender, revealing that the house needs to feed every 30 years or the evil beneath it will search out fresh souls, potentially destroying the town.

Jacob eventually manages to convince a reluctant Paul to hold a seance with him while their wives are out. This ends with Jacob becoming possessed by the spirit of Lassander Dagmar (Guy Gane III), who reveals that they were never run out of town, rather the villagers used him and his family as a sacrifice to the evil under their home. Lassander, overcome with rage, then causes Jacob to kill himself. His wife May tries to flee, only to be killed by Dave, who has come to the house with the other townspeople, determined to give the darkness under the home what it wants. The Sacchettis then hear the voice of their son Bobby urging them to leave the house, and flee upstairs as Dave and the townspeople begin breaking into and entering the house. The spirits of the Dagmar family then proceed to violently murder every one of the townspeople in the house until only Dave, Paul, and Anne remain. Still intending to sacrifice them, Dave tries to kill Anne and Paul, but before he can do so, he is killed by Lassander’s spirit. As Paul and Anne stare at the carnage around them, the spirits of the family depart from the house, finally satisfied with their revenge. Still believing her son is in the home, Anne dazedly walks into the house’s cellar, followed moments later by her husband. As he peers down the stairs, Paul smiles slightly, then says “Hey Bobby”.

Coming Soon from Dark Regions Press! The Red Brain: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (ed. Joshi)

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(Dark Regions Press)

The Red Brain: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Edited by S. T. Joshi, a follow-up anthology to A Mountain Walked. The book will be available in ebook, trade paperback and a deluxe slipcased edition designed to match the slipcased collector’s edition of A Mountain Walked so that both volumes line up nicely on the shelf.

Featuring stories from Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Caitlín R. Kiernan, W. H. Pugmire, Mark Samuels, Ray Garton Clark Ashton Smith and more, The Red Brain will be offered for preorder on Tuesday, May 2nd 2017 in our upcoming Cthulhu Mythos campaign!

http://www.darkregions.com/news/may-2nd-cthulhu-mythos-books-campaign-six-new-titles-dark-regions-press

 

 

Dark Gods, Four Horror Novellas by T. E. D. Klein (Viking/Penguin 1985)

Dark Gods - Jul 1986, T. E. D. Klein, publ. Bantam, 0-553-25801-X, $3.95, 261pp, pb, collDark Gods by T. E. D. Klein, 4 Horror Novellas…

Table of Contents

1. Children of the Kingdom
2. Petey
3. Black Man with a Horn
4. Nadelman’s God

The sadly non-prolific T.E.D. Klein published his only novel, The Ceremonies, in 1984 (an expansion of his story “The Events at Poroth Farm”, another very frightening story that first appeared in Shadows 2, edited by Charles L. Grant). 1984! Klein’s second book, followed a year later: the collection Dark Gods, which is comprised of four novellas written during the previous decade. Klein was editor of Twilight Zone magazine at the time (the magazine published well-respected short horror stories until its demise in 1989).

Although all of his fiction is set in the modern era, its care and subtlety hearken back to late 19th/early 20th century masters like M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu, Lovecraft—there is even a hint of Carver, Oates, and Updike in Klein’s portrayal of mid-twentieth-century American suburbia (see “Petey”). Modern purveyors of this style work in what has been dubbed “quiet horror.” I just call it “smart horror” or “horror with an intellect”. Many of these writers are writing what is now being rferred to as “weird fiction” (Strantzas, Kiernan, Unsworth, Cluley, Mills, Wehunt, DeMeester, Ballingrud, John Langan, Ramsey Campbell, Kim Newman, Gaiman, et al.) These writers pride themselves on creating moods and atmospheres, a sense of awe, mystery, providing chilling intimations of fear and dread rather than, as Stephen King once put it (and as is King’s own niche more often than not), “going for the gross-out.”

The Bantam mass-market paberback cover of Dark Gods (pictured here) depicts, out of a vast stormy sky, an inchoate face, raging, fanged, demonic—a living darkness threatening a solitary rural house (it’s from “Petey”).

The first novella, “Children of the Kingdom” (originally published in 1980 in the game-changing anthology Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley), takes place in the midst of the infamous New York City blackout of summer 1977 at an old folks’ home where the narrator’s grandfather lives. Slowly and surely Klein builds the atmosphere, dropping hints and clues throughout, mixing vague supernatural dread with real-life threats caused by the blackout. The sewers of New York, it turns out, harbor more than just baby alligators; and roving gangs something a bit less-than-human, perhaps, might be lurking closer than you think.

black-man-with-a-horn“Black Man with a Horn” (1980), one of Klein’s most lauded stories, has as its narrator an old horror fiction writer who once knew H. P. Lovecraft. After a chance meeting with a nervous missionary returning from Malaysia on an international flight, the narrator learns the true meaning of a horrific bogeyman from ancient myth—myth he thought was made up entirely by Lovecraft and his fellow circle of Weird Tales writers. The story is both a sly, ironic meditation on the art of horror; as well as a creepy, satisfying story. Considered part of the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos cycle, it was originally published in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by Ramsey Campbell (Arkham House).  The story is based on a cult mentioned by both August Derleth and Lovecraft, called the “Tcho-Tcho”, and the protagonist’s investigation into its connection with the disappearance of the missionary.

“Petey” involves a man in a mental asylum who’s so spooked by something he’s seen that he keeps trying to commit suicide. George and Phyllis and thirty of their friends are celebrating the couple’s new Connecticut home, an old place they’ve recently fixed up (more specifically, cleaned up). The previous owner of the house was a bit…imbalanced (he had “eyes like a sorcerer” some of the locals claim). Someone finds an ancient book about grotesqueries and arabesqueries. And, about 20 pages into the story, someone pulls out a creepy deck of tarot cards. Petey is one of the best horror stories I’ve ever read. What makes it so incredible is the slow unfolding of the horror. It’s the kind of tale that will quickly exhaust the patience of the short-attention-spanned reader. This, agaon, is smart horror, quiet horror, horror for the intellect. Trust it. Petey is the kind of tale that will reward the patient reader. It will make you glance over your shoulder at every ittle bump in the night, and wish to hell you hadn’t sat down to read it next to a window.

“Nadelman’s God”—which won the 1986 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella, reads more like a comedy of errors than a supernatural arising. But in a random and chaotic universe as this, where mankind is still guessing at metaphysical connections, it is with a mannered sigh of cultivated resignation that an ancient, exiled god can be conjured out of a sophomoric, pretentious poem ego-published in a small, collegiate newspaper. Nadelman has dismissed any long-ago, youthful dream of using his celestial musings to impress society’s intelligencia. Soon, the brutal murders start, and all hope of a benign belief system fail. As more unspeakable events occur, Nadelman plunders into his own daunting ennui. He feels as if the earth were yearning to crush him, smother him, blot out the very memory of him; as if the planet, all nature, all creation, the very fabric of reality, were inimical to breeds such as his.

Cool “Lovecraftian” Comic Art

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The delights gather thick as ghouls in a midnight cemetery …

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“The delights of this macabre novel gather thick as ghouls at midnight in the cemetery.” – The Washingtom Post on The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

Vampires, a curse, the colonial village of Princeton, this novel is a knockout—filled with poetic prose, with nods to Radcliffe, the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Lovecraft, and even Emily Dickinson. The Accursed is not what I expected. The cover misleads. And I’m glad it does.

Ron Charles in his 2013 Washington Post review: “With its vast scope, its mingling of comic and tragic tones, its omnivorous gorging on American literature, and especially its complex reflection on the major themes of our history, “The Accursed” is the kind of outrageous masterpiece only Joyce Carol Oates could create.’

Read this book. – SW

The Washington Post Review, 2013

Book World: ‘The Accursed,’ by Joyce Carol Oates by Ron Charles

‘The Accursed” is the latest addition to Joyce Carol Oates’s boundless body of work, and it’s spectacular — a coalescence of history, horror and social satire that whirls around for almost 700 mesmerizing pages. Oates started the novel in 1984 but set it aside to steep in its own febrile juices for three decades. Now “The Accursed” arises in full bloom, boasting as much craft as witchcraft.

The book comes to us framed as a work of amateur history, the pet project of M.W. van Dyck, a member of one of the august old families in Princeton, N.J. “I have been privy to many materials unavailable to other historians,” he tells us, dismissing earlier scholars who have tried to make sense of the tragedies that struck Princeton in 1905. “No one is possessed of as much information as I am concerning the private, as well as the public, nature of the Curse.”

What follows is a “massive chronicle” — a patchwork of narratives, letters, diaries, journals and sermons that together unveil the grotesque assault that once shed America’s bluest blood. “The subject matter is disconcerting,” van Dyck admits, “if not frankly repulsive,” but the truth will out.

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At the center of this spectral tale, spiked with a “frisson of dread,” live the Slades, who can trace their lineage back to Plymouth Plantation. The living patriarch, the Rev. Winslow Slade, was once governor of New Jersey and now basks in the joys of retirement. As one of New England’s wealthiest and most esteemed Presbyterian ministers, he’s still sought out by men of influence. But nothing matters more to him than the happiness of his four grandchildren. How sad, then, that those beautiful children are torn from him, one by one, during a series of chilling events known collectively as the Curse.

The first grandchild struck is beautiful Annabel, betrothed to gallant Lt. Bayard. Honestly, can anything worse befall a young bride than getting married in a book by Joyce Carol Oates? It’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something slew. This time the flowers don’t just wilt, they emit a poisonous aroma that drives men to murderous rage. Nine years ago, Oates published a powerful novel called “The Falls” about a marriage that ended on the first day of the honeymoon, but that was matrimonial bliss compared with the marriage in “The Accursed,” which lasts about 30 seconds. It’s such a masterly scene, elaborately foreshadowed, gorgeously festooned as only Oates can, and then run in delectable slow motion — with some dialogue in parseltongue — right up to the fantastic climax of Part I.

The delights of this macabre novel gather thick as ghouls at midnight in the cemetery. I’ve never been so aware of Oates’s weird comedy. Through it all, van Dyck maintains his skeptical, scholarly tone, even when a lonely undergraduate is ravished by a self-loathing gay vampire, or a minister chokes on a giant snake, or a gossipy invalid is murdered with an electric fan. The scent of demons grows pungent, and viscera pile up at the bottom of these pages, but our narrator shuffles along, assuring us he’s just clearing the cobwebs from a story too long encumbered by myths and rumors. “Where my objectivity as a historian is an issue,” he tells us, “I must err on the side of caution.” Did I mention the boy who turns to stone?

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Among all the creatures Oates resurrects, she revives the spirit of Nathaniel Hawthorne — who, with a similarly dry wit, liked to suggest the most outlandish speculations, then dismiss them immediately. And his work isn’t the only classic you can hear echoing in the dark forest of this story: The mysterious pattern of mayhem in Princeton recalls one of America’s first novels, a tale of deadly mental influence by Charles Brockden Brown called “Wieland.” In another “Accursed” storyline, a professor falls into madness by trying to apply the methods of Sherlock Holmes. Later, a handsome young man sails off toward the frozen terror of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Arthur Gordon Pym,” while his lovely sister rides away in a creepy dramatization of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” flaps around every corner.

Those literary allusions are only a slice of this novel’s treasures. Although a creaky ghost story with all its attendant specters would seem a strange frame for a work of historical fiction about the beginning of the 20th century, “The Accursed” provides a compelling context to explore equally scary attitudes about blacks, gays and the poor. After all, to these nervous Brahmins, striking miners are just as frightening as vampires. In the twilight before World War I, the pious folk of Princeton are troubled by fiery debates about the nature of God, the rights of women, the power of capital, the future of socialism and particularly the role of blacks. Older residents can remember the good old days when Southern boys brought their own slaves to school. But now, that calcified structure of elitism is being challenged by forces earthly and occult, and the past will have its revenge. “There is a monstrousness in our midst,” one well-heeled snob scribbles in her diary.

Whereas the central, doomed family of “The Accursed” is Oates’s invention, familiar figures such as Mark Twain, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland rise from their graves fully reanimated in these pages. Central among them is Princeton’s most famous president, Woodrow Wilson, a brittle monomaniac shown here in all his paranoia and imperialism years before he ascended to the White House and made the world safe for democracy. Oates doesn’t just knock him off his pedestal; she crushes him beneath the weight of his own bizarre habits and terrors. She takes special delight in detailing Wilson’s penchant for demonizing anyone who disagrees with him, telling racist jokes and pumping his own stomach with a tube.

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A professor at Princeton for decades, Oates also luxuriates in exposing the school’s ivy-strangled traditions in “a claustrophobic little world of privilege and anxiety in which one was made to care too much about too little.” Internecine battles threaten to tear the school apart, and the students are devoted to socializing, not scholarship. And there’s a wickedly funny section about Princeton’s obsession with homosexuality that foreshadows our current approach to prosecuting terrorism in a cloud of paranoia and secrecy.

Charmingly, Oates subjects herself to the same wry appraisal. Van Dyck’s narrative is spiked with self-deprecating jokes that allude to her own critical reception, her inexhaustible verbiage, even her tendency toward melodrama. When the novel’s final pages veer into Shakespearean comedy and then rush into a puritanical sermon of Old Testament fury, it’s clear that this is an author fully aware of her literary extravagances.

Yes, it’s exhaustive and exhausting as it sprawls across all this disparate material. It’s no wonder the word “faint” seems to lie on every other page. And there are a few dead patches — Wilson’s trip to Bermuda never really comes to life, and the Jack London section drags — but those ragged edges only make the book seem more like something van Dyck has curated over his lifetime. With its vast scope, its mingling of comic and tragic tones, its omnivorous gorging on American literature, and especially its complex reflection on the major themes of our history, “The Accursed” is the kind of outrageous masterpiece only Joyce Carol Oates could create.’ ♢

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Author Photo by Annie Leibowitz.