Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood – Algernon Blackwood – book review

Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood – Algernon Blackwood
Dover Publications
Selected and introduced by E.F. Bleiber

These collected tales by Algernon Blackwood are not all traditional ghost stories but are supernatural in a larger sense. I had been familiar with his more famous tales in this collection, The Windego and The Willows which portray elemental powers – where natural geographies possess a conscious malevolent will. In The Glamour of the Snow, we find that same elemental will as swirling flakes materialize into a beautiful maiden and lure a man further from the safety and warmth of his mountain holiday hotel. In Secret Worship, a phantom boarding school in the German Alps calls to its alumni in order to continue its secret ceremonies of dark powers.

While the British author is famous for these weird tales and expanding the field of horror to encompass more (along with his contemporaries, Lovecraft, Machen), it is the traditional ghost stories in this book that intrigue me the most. My favorite, The Listener, is a tense ghost story that builds suspense in small steps and never lets up. A writer, seeking the seclusion of a quiet boarding house, finds no sanctity as he is slowly tormented and pushed to the edge of sanity by a malicious entity. The Empty House dares a young man and his aging aunt to stay the night and see the truth, in this epitome of the haunted house tale. The story increases intensity with every paragraph. I would highly recommend both of these tales to anyone who wants to read a good ghost story, write a ghost story, or just wants a chilling yarn to keep them awake at night.

Blackwood does not feel the need to explain the supernatural happenings in his fiction. He only presents them in the stories as fact and for the reader to accept that these things exist. Noting the impact of these stories as I read them, I shudder to think what his readers felt like when these tales were first published in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I imagine that many readers fostered little sleep and kept lanterns burning through the night. Don’t be misled by my analogy, these stories are timeless and will have the same impact today, for those who dare open the pages of this book.

The Nightmare Factory (graphic novel) – book review

The Nightmare Factory – Fox Atomic Comics

Based on the stories of Thomas Ligotti

The Nightmare Factory really brought me back to the 1970’s, when Creepy and Eerie magazines dominated the slick horror comic scene. Contained within this graphic novel are four previously published stories, adapted and written by Stuart Moore and Joe Harris to maximize the horrific aspects of Ligotti’s work. Beautifully illustrated by Colleen Doran, Ben Templesmith, Ted McKeever and Michael Gaydos, we are treated to visual renderings of the horrible things that lurk in the darkness of Ligotti’s mind.

While TNF does a great job at delivering the horror aspects of his work, Ligotti’s stories always have a bigger meaning – social overtones, allegory connotations, and commentary – which can not be fully expressed in this format. However, the rewrites are the perfect length and contain the all of the right ingredients for this graphic novel to be engaging. I had previously read all but one of these stories so for me this was an entertaining revisit of familiar tales.

My favorite story within is the Teatro Grottesco. A conspired troupe journeys the land to drain the wills of artists and creative types, in order to transform them into the ordinary conformities of the general populous. Being a musician for much of my life, I had often seen this transformation. After not seeing a local musician for several months, I would accidentally bump into them in NYC and they would have a short haircut, be wearing a suit and be working as a manager in The Gap. It was always strange to see someone give up on their dreams and talents so completely. When I read ‘Teatro…’ I finally had an explanation.

For those who are not avid readers but are curious, this would be a great way to get introduced to the tales of Ligotti. For those who are fans already, TNF is a well crafted visual reexamination of familiar narratives. With the prices skyrocketing on all of Ligotti’s work as they become out-of-print (hardcover and paperback editions going for $60 to $300 on Amazon), this would be well worth the investment for the comic & graphic novel collector.

Must See:
Great animated trailer on for The Nightmare Factory using the artwork from its pages to animate one of the stories within:

20th Century Ghosts – Joe Hill – Book Review

20th Century Ghosts – Joe Hill
William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishing

I believe this is Hill’s first published book of horror-fiction, short-stories. Because of the title, I had expected actual ghost stories but there is only one traditional ghost story within these pages, which shares the same title as the book. The collection varies from visceral horror, to thriller, to weird fiction. It starts splendidly with the brutal tale, “Best New Horror” where a fiction editor picks a violent tale for inclusion in a year-end anthology despite its rawer writing style. Unable to contact the author, he travels by car to the rural home of the writer, only to find, the story may not have been fiction after-all. Next up is the story, 20th Century Ghost, which is a twist on the traditional ghost story, set in a movie theater of a small town. From there we have strange tales which include a modernized, visceral homage to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a story involving the descendants of Van Helsing, a train riding Hobo, a plastic balloon shaped like a real boy, and others. Hill often shows a sense of humor within his tales, through the character’s actions and twists of fate that mirror the unexpected ironies in real life. 20th Century Ghosts is an interestingly diverse collection of strange tales that will keep you reading through the night, sometimes with the lights on, sometimes with a smirk, and occasionally with a teary eye and a heavy heart.

The White People… by Arthur Machen – book review

The White People and Other Weird Stories – Arthur Machen
Penguin Classics

This is not the easiest of reads. Some will be turned off by the long expose’, a peeling of layers common to all of Machen’s stories. (*Also common to many of his contemporaries of the time, including H.P. Lovecraft). There is quite a bit of reference to the common knowledge of the times that is not-so-common knowledge now, such as; words and ideas of alchemy, Welsh folklore, Celtic mythology, and word origins both faded with time, and invented for the tale. There is even a glossary of explanations in the back of the book.

In The White People, two educated men are debating the possibilities of the true existence of evil when one unveils a young ladies diary as proof of his argument. The story is then told through the diary, about the young lady’s adventures in the remote countryside of her home. The mystery is unveiled, hinting that the countryside itself is a labyrinth of sorts and that getting through it would lead you to an ancient, occult culture of White People, who engaged in bizarre rituals and pagan witchcraft. Machen leads you to the very edge of this forbidden knowledge, then pulls back never letting you really see the horror that the character has discovered.

The book includes other stories such as, The Inmost Light, where a wealthy man intent on proving the existence of the human spirit, captures his wife’s soul in a crystal rock by means of an ancient ritual. Her soulless body is led around town by her husband and his servants, going through the motions of life with blank expression and disinterest. Several stories cater to the same notions that ancient pagan people, gods, deities, and rituals still survive to this day and can sometimes influence or destroy modern people who seek this knowledge. Additional stories collected here are, The Terror, The Bowmen, and A Fragment of Life, amongst others. The book includes a foreword by Guillermo Del Toro and an introduction by S.T. Joshi.

If you are the type of person that likes a horror mystery to unravel in layers, and are interested in the mindset and notions of an age gone by, this would be a good read for you. Machen’s stories are rich with description, symbolism and enigma.

Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco – book review

Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco
Virgin Books, ltd.

I am late in discovering the talent of Thomas Ligotti considering his first collection had been published in 1986. However, I am glad Teatro Grottesco  is the first of his books that I read because it is the best collection to date and the most accessible to horror fans. Ligotti is mostly considered an author of strange fiction and weird tales but the end result is always horror no matter what path had been taken to get there. Upon reading the first story in this collection, Purity, I sat in my chair unmoving for several minutes. Then, I turned back to page one and re-read the whole story. Reading this story was like watching a magician perform an exceptional illusion. It was simultaneously bizarre and commonplace, eccentric and familiar, fantastic but low-key. This was not a fluke applicable to this one story. Indeed, I found myself re-reading several of the stories repeatedly as I tackled the book including, The Clown Puppet and Gas Station Carnivals.

Another quality of Ligotti’s style is that he seems to be the exception to every rule. Everything that my teachers and mentors have ever told me about becoming a published fiction writer, about my work, Ligotti embraces in his style. I was told, don’t write in first person if you want to get published; all of his stories are in first person. I am told I have too much exposition; some of his stories are loaded to the gills with exposition. I am told to be succinct, something Ligotti definitely is not. I am told to be careful of block writing; some of Ligotti’s stories have the first paragraph and subsequent paragraphs weighing in at a full page each. Just flip through the book and you will see page after page of text with few paragraph indents. I am told my writing is unduly formal; at times Ligotti seems to be writing a reference book rather than a fictional story. But it all works for him as he weaves interesting, strange, and fantastic tales that are as sincere as they are bizarre and stories that captivate the reader and drag them off to a place they have never been.

If you enjoy reading Lovecraft and Poe, you will most likely embrace Ligotti. If you prefer the streamline style of Dean Koontz, you may find Ligotti a bit overbearing. But try it out for yourself and make your own decision. Teatro Grottesco is a good place to start.