Thursday, September 11, 2008

Book 1 of 100: The Haunted Looking Glass ed. by Edward Gorey

While it may appear to the casual viewer that Prisco (Mr. Five books. Shah.) is owning my ass in this race, it simply isn't true. I've just been a febrile mess lately and couldn't be bothered to write anything about my reads. If anyone is currently keeping count, I am tearing through book four.

So there.

Prisco chose a sci-fi writer's self-help tome to be his first read. I pick a collection of old fashioned ghost stories edited by Edward Gorey. I'm sure this has deeper meaning.

Edward Gorey was one of those artists/famous people that I dreamed of one day meeting. I love his ability to take the macabre and twisted (The Curious Sofa, anyone?) and make them elegant and just a wee bit quaint. However, I am glad I never got the chance to share a drink with the man, as I am sure he would have thought me a ninny, and I would have learned some horrible truth about him, like his bad dental hygiene or that he was a raging misogynist (Neither of which I know to be true. I'm just speculating here, people.).

The Haunted Looking Glass does much maintain his place of adoration my heart. Gorey selected twelve (Oh, why not thirteen!) old-fashioned ghost stories such masters of the craft as Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, and the godfather of the Gothic novel, Wilkie Collins. All of the stories are traditional chillers with haunted houses, premonitory visions, and vengeful spirits. There's no blood or gore. No vampires or evil clowns. Just a tidy collection of things that go bump in the night and leave you with a chill up your spine. And not only did Gorey have a hand in selecting the stories, but he also provides illustrations for the title page of each.

While some of the stories play out as slightly dated, there were definitely a few standouts with a strong creep factor. "The Empty House" by Algernon Blackwood is a tightly wound telling of a man and his elderly aunt's visit to a supposed haunted house. Their journey through the vacant house and what they encounter was far more effective at illiciting the eebie-jeebies from me than any of those "supernatural"television shows where people wander around old buildings using night vision cameras and exclaiming, "What was that?".

The most effectively creepy story came from none other than Bram Stoker. "The Judge's House" has to be the first time I've read a story and wanted to shout at the main character, like people do in bad horror films. A student rents an old house as a retreat to complete his studies, and very quickly encounters the infestation of rats in the wainscoting. Yeah, my ass would have been at the Days Inn five seconds after the first pair of beady little eyes peered out of the woodwork, but the unfortunately stubborn student continues to stay in the house. Stoker makes the skin crawl with this tale of haunting by rodents.

Gorey wisely chose to include the ever-frightening "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs. If you've never read this classic, you absolutely need to. Right now. All I can say is that it's the best illustration of how readers' imaginations sometimes can do all necessary work; a writer just has to give them the right tasty little morsel to set that machine in motion.

M.R. James' "Casting The Runes" rounds out the lot as the one story that felt the most "modern". It is a well-paced tale of a man attempting to crawl out from underneath a hex from a bitter, self-described alchemist whose badly written paper the hexed man made the mistake of giving a negative review. Be careful what you write in those Amazon customer reviews.

The Haunted Looking Glass certainly didn't terrify me to the point of needing to sleep with the light on. There's only been one book with that kind of power over me, Ghost Story by Peter Straub. But it was darn good for a little shiver before bedtime.


Pea said...

I just left two recommendations with Prisco. I'm going to give you the same two recommendations, to make for a level playing field.

First: The White Plague. It's a scary bit of science fiction. The author doesn't always spell out the whole story - he lets chunks of time go by and then gives you glimpses into how the world has changed in the intervening time.

Second: Mutant Message Down Under. Pure awesomeness. It's the story of one woman who is taken to the Australian Outback and travels across it with a reclusive aboriginal tribe. It's absolutely beautiful and mind-blowing.

Happy Reading!

JamieSmitten said...

I definitely want to borrow this book! I'll skip the rat story (for current personal issues) but I'd love to be spooked by the Monkey Paw again!!

Anonymous said...

That's messed up.

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