Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Stories of the Supernatural: Review

Tales of deadly, crawling fears that lurk in the darkness--feeding on human guilt...greed...and passion (from the front cover)

Stories of the Supernatural (1963) is an anthology of spooky tales selected by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is a mixture of straight-up ghost stories (see "The Trial for Murder") and open hoaxes to stories that seem to have no answer and those which have a tenuous connection to the supernatural at best. Short story collections tend to be a mixed bag when it comes to quality as well--and this one is no different. "The Trial for Murder," "The Open Window," "The Monkey's Paw," and "August Heat" are all very strong and very affecting stories. The remainder are fair (at best) and a couple are downright mediocre ("Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched" and "Proof"). To be honest, I have read collections in the past that were much more even in quality and contained more overall creepiness per page. There are not nearly as man "tales of deadly, crawling fears" here as the front cover promises. ★★ and a half.

Side-note: my edition of this collection has apparently been taken over by supernatural forces which want us to focus on marriage. It is fine until "Mrs. Amworth" by E.F. Benson--of which, it provides only six pages. Then it turns into "Making Marriage Stick" and a couple of other chapters of a womanly advice/marriage book--meanwhile replacing two listed short stories and chopping off the beginning of "Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched" by May Sinclair. 

"The Trial for Murder" by Charles Allston & Charles Dickens: the strange story as by a juror and ultimately the foreman on a murder trial. The man finds that of all those involved in the trial he alone can see and hear the ghost of the murdered man--unless he touches another person.

"The Open Window" by "Saki" (H. H. Munro): Eccentric hypochondriac Mr. Nuttel visits the country at the urging of his doctor. His sister provides him with introductions to many of the residents, including the Sappletons, and is received by Mrs. Sappleton's niece, Vera. While waiting for her aunt, Vera explains to Nuttel that her aunt keeps the window open hoping that her uncle will return from a doomed hunting trip. Nuttel, who is already very anxious, becomes unnerved when someone...or something...really does approach the window.

"The Novel of the Black Seal" by Arthur Machen: A man gradually uncovers the secrets of a race of pre-humans hiding in the Welsh hills, and the true nature of a hybrid, idiot child fathered by one of them.

"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs: A classic, often reprinted story.  At its heart, a warning to "be careful what you wish for....you just might get it."

"Mrs. Amworth" by E. F. Benson: a story of vampirism which centers on a rather "jolly" and vivacious vampire who prefers her blood young and male.

"August Heat" by W. F. Harvey: Two men meet, as if by chance, on a hot August day but each has had a vision of sorts about the other's future.  And the "heat is stifling.  It is enough to send a man mad."

"The Anticipator" by Morley Roberts: a tale of two rival writers. Esplan is a fine writer--his stories are considered the inspired works of true genius. His foe, Burford, is his opposite--every bit as bad as Esplan is good.  But lately Burford has started publishing stories with the exact same plot as Esplan has been working on for weeks, making Esplan's tales unsaleable...or worse, making it seem that he is plagiarizing his inept competitor [but, seriously, why would he?]. As Esplan becomes enraged and bitter, he decides it is time to get rid of Burford. But then things take an unexpected turn....

"Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched" by May Sinclair: What happens when two people have an affair, tire of it, and then die? Well...apparently if they're on the naughty list, then they're doomed to be with each other for eternity....

"The Seventh Man" by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: An indefinable story of six men stranded in the Arctic winter who do not seem to be alone. They seem to be on the verge of cracking up when one of them is caught outside and nearly frozen to death--as the men work on reviving him, some see an extra "seventh" man in the cabin.

"Proof" by Naomi Royde-Smith: A civil servant is hounded by his wife to tell her state secrets. While on holiday he meets a young woman and falls in love with her. This becomes the only secret he manages to keep during his whole life. When he dies, his wife suspects that there was a major secret that he never told...she's determined to reach him in the after-life and pry it out of him....

"Lukundoo" by Edward Lucas White: White's most frequently anthologized story, is the tale of an American explorer in a remote section of Africa who incurs the wrath of the local witch doctor, who casts a spell on him. Hundreds of sore pustules erupt all over the explorer's body. As these develop, it becomes clear that each sore is actually a sort of homunculus: a tiny African man, emerging head-first from within the explorer's flesh. He must take extreme measures to rid himself of the curse....


J F Norris said...

That manufacturing error could easily have ruined my day. Did you go looking for the missing pages of "Mrs. Amworth" or the start of the Sinclair tale in different books? Reminds me of the time last year when while reading THREE GREEN BOTTLES I discovered there were 42 pages (two entire signatures) that never were bound into my copy. Somehow I still managed to enjoy the novel. But one day I'd like to read those pages to see what I missed!

Saki's story isn't even remotely a supernatural story and it bothers me that it always turns up in these anthologies. The off hand mention of a ghost and especially the ending does not qualify it for inclusion, IMO. Yes, it's a good story, but it belongs more to the Roald Dahl type of story with a creepy central character and a surprise ending. I like the Machen story more than you I guess, as well as the rest of the tales in THE THREE IMPOSTORS from where it was taken. I'd rate it well above average, even noteworthy in the entire genre.

Bev Hankins said...

John: Yes, I did go hunting for the remaining stories and read what I could. I'd read "August Heat" before, so that was no trouble.

And I agree that the Saki story isn't really a ghost story--but I do like the shock the main character gets. It's more in the line of a practical joke...but done nicely.

fredamans said...

Sounds like a cool collection!