SOMEWHERE in Jurgen James Branch Cabell says, in effect, that if one wants a princess, all one needs is the good will of a queen. This year, judging by the number of books published, it would seem that if one wants to be an anthologist of fantastic fiction, all one needs is a few stories and the good will of a publisher. Nevertheless, the year has ended well with two excellent anthologies and some good collections of stories by individual authors.
The best anthology of new stories is Charles L. Grant's Shadows 10 (Doubleday, $12.95), the latest volume of an ongoing series. The average is high, and there is some excellent material, notably "Moonflowers" by Melissa Mia Hall and "The Fence" by Thomas Sullivan. Hall's story, which demonstrates good imagery and stylistic brilliance, is Southern regionalism of a sort. A broken-down academic encounters horrors from his past, symbolized by the moonflowers that grow on a river bank. "The Fence" is remarkable for the sense of urgency and peril that it conveys as a group of college students driving home are hunted on an exitless road. A note of surrealism adds to the horror. There are also good stories by Lisa Tuttle and T.M. Wright.
Vampires and Aliens
GRANT, THE editor of Shadows 10, is one of the contributors to Karl Edward Wagner's The Year's Best Horror Stories XV (DAW, paperback $3.50), with "Crystal," a good piece about the devastation of emotion, told in fantastic terms. Wagner's collection has some excellent material and is worth having, although any yearly anthology must of necessity be spotty. Perhaps the best story is "Dead Man's Back" by Joe R. Lansdale, which unites the horrors of guilt, the post-atomic war world, a frightful but beautiful new life form, and tattooing, with masochistic touches. Also worth reading are the sophisticated vampire story "Necros" by Brian Lumley (despite an obvious "surprise" ending that is not likely to surprise anyone) and "Tattoos" by Jack Dann, which has suggestions of Chagall and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Charles Keeping's Classical Tales of the Macabre (Bedrick/Blackie, $14.95) contains eight stories, at least half of which can legitimately be called classical. Among them are Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," Thomas Hardy's "The Withered Arm," and others more or less standard. The importance of the book, obviously, lies not in the stories, most of which can be obtained anywhere, but in the production, which is tasteful and attractive. Keeping's black-and-white illustrations are agreeably sinister; a striking example is to be seen in his two illustrations for M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad," as compared to the illustrations of the same scenes by James' friend James McBryde. But the adage about cobblers and lasts should apply here. Some readers may take the end notes seriously and go through life believing among other things that Belshazzar was a king of Israel.
More Words and Pictures
ANOTHER story/art collection is Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre, illustrated by Michael Foreman (Doubleday, $18.95). It contains six stories, including "Don't Look Now," "The Apple Tree" and "The Birds." The stories are good reading, though they can be found in other collections, but I wonder about the present edition. It is true that Foreman must combat residual images created in the motion pictures directed by Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock, but even so, I find his melting polychromes at variance with the moods of the stories. All in all, an overproduced coffee-table book.
The second outstanding anthology of the year is David Hartwell's The Dark Descent (Tor, $29.95), a huge volume containing 56 stories ranging from Victorians like Charles Dickens and Joseph Sheridan LeFanu up to such moderns as Tanith Lee, Robert Aickman, and Thomas M. Disch. Included is excellent work by most of the major writers of supernatural fiction -- Henry James, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, William Faulkner, Ramsey Campbell, Gene Wolfe, Oliver Onions, Ambrose Bierce, and many others, even including the unexpected, like D.H. Lawrence's thought-provoking short tragedy "The Rocking-Horse Winner." The large scope of the book and the good taste in the selection make this one of the best buys since the old British Century series of the 1930s. With 56 stories, no reasonable person would expect all to be on the same level, but there is only one sore thumb, and that is Philip K. Dick's "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts," a science-fiction story tabbed onto the end of the book. This book can offer many hours of enjoyment from both the familiar and the unfamiliar.
I do have two criticisms to make, however. In a book of this scope and pretension, one expects to find good headnotes leading into the stories, perhaps saying something about the author's background, perhaps pointing up highlights or explaining obscurities. Such is not the case here. The little introductions are sloppily written, sometimes in error, and all too often do little more than puff other stories in the book. A purchaser deserves better. My second criticism has nothing to do with the high quality of the stories, but is bone-picking on the editorial slant. Hartwell seems to be trying to divert a body of literature recognized as classic in (somewhat unsaleable) supernatural fiction to the new, hot market-category of horror. Not supernatural horror, as H.P. Lovecraft might have classed some of the stories here, but just plain horror, which today means sadism, violence, sexual shock, excretory matters, charnel decay. Can anyone honestly believe that Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" or Henry James' "The Jolly Corner," or "The Rocking-Horse Winner" are horror stories? Admittedly sensibilities differ about what is horrible, but still . . . Sooner or later someone is going to reclassify The Wizard of Oz as horror fiction, because Dorothy's quest, which really amounts to the contract killing of an eccentric old woman, is also attended by various distressing things that upset her and her friends the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.
Spirits of the Season
HARTWELL has also had a hand in another anthology, Christmas Ghosts (Arbor House, $17.95), edited by Kathryn Cramer and him, which contains 17 supernatural stories that are more or less connected with Christmas. The editors have stressed older work; only two items, "Christmas Night" by Elizabeth Walter and "Calling Card" by Ramsey Campbell, are the contributions of contemporary authors. Some of the older stories are rather difficult to find elsewhere, like William O'Connor's "The Ghost," which is a pastiche of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," and "The Ghosts at Grantley" by the interesting Albany author Leonard Kip. Naturally, Dickens has to be present, and there are two items by him: "The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton," which is to all intents and purposes a foredraft of "A Christmas Carol," and "Christmas Cards," Dickens' nice little reminiscent essay of idealized Christmases of the past. Quite a different approach from the sentimentality of such stories is Arthur Machen's "A New Christmas Carol," in which Scrooge is presented with a bill from the Commissioners of Income Tax. "I am . . . called Ruin and Despair."
Two important reissues are Vernon Lee's Supernatural Tales (Dufour, $18.95) and Alfred Bendixen's Haunted Women (Ungar, paperback, $10.95). Lee (the pseudonym for Violet Paget, one of the turn-of-the-century pioneers in Italian cultural history), was an early master of the psychological supernatural tale. The present collection contains such favorites as the ghost stories "Amour Dure" and "A Wicked Voice," the pseudo-legends "Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady" and "The Virgin of the Seven Daggers," and two other stories. Bendixen's Haunted Women is perhaps the best selection of supernatural fiction by American women of the premodern period. It includes work by Kate Chopin, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and others. Both books are highly recommended.
The Valley So Low (Doubleday, $13.95), edited by Karl Edward Wagner, is a memorial collection of Ozark supernatural fiction by the late Manly Wade Wellman. Wellman was one of the old-time pulpateers, active for almost 60 years in writing sf and supernatural fiction. He churned out many occult detective stories and horror stories, most of which did not click, for, an amiable man, he seemed unable to evoke anything more frightening than a Sendak Wild Thing. But in one area he excelled: fiction based on folklore, factual or fictional. In this work, written in speech patterns that may or may not be authentic, Wellman captured the flavor of the Ozarks and the behavior patterns of their people. The best of these stories focused on Silver John, a wandering ballad singer, who confronts the supernatural in everyday mountain situations. The present collection contains six stories about John, stories in other series (Lee Cobbett, Judge Pursuivant, Hal Stryker), and independent stories. Outstanding are "Arimetta," about a rather possessive hill demon, but also with good information on the manner and morality of moonshining, and "Rock, Rock," a story about supernatural punishment, perhaps trite in theme, but nicely handled. The Valley So Low is a large collection, with 26 stories, that should delight Wellman's fans.
Roll the Bones
ALAN RYAN'S The Bones Wizard (Doubleday, $12.95) offers a good sampling of Ryan's unconventional fiction. There are 12 stories, 10 of which are reprints from magazines and earlier anthologies, and two of which are new. Two stories that are set in contemporary Ireland are especially attractive. The title story, "The Bones Wizard," offers a fine picture of pub music and musicians in Dublin and the bones -- here a musical instrument and something more. "The Rose of Knock" refers to a golden rose presented by the Pope; like a previous papal golden rose, the one Pope Clement VI gave as part of the purchase of Avignon, it is a focus for problems -- in this case supernatural. Another good story is "The Lovely and Talented Maxine Kane," which provides an excellent figurative but horrible statement of the ashes of dead love. Ryan's fiction has a refreshing individual touch.
Karl Edward Wagner is also represented with Why Not You and I? (Tor, paperback, $3.95), a collection that does not stand up to his earlier books. It contains the excellent "Into Whose Hands," which has a fine description of procedures in a hospital emergency mental ward, and "More Sinned Against," a story of sexual exploitation and witchcraft. Unfortunately, too much of the book is otherwise taken up with Wagner's attempts to write shockers in the pulp manner of the 1930s, with a fair amount of in-material for those who have read the old hero pulps. The idea may or may not be a good one; it may be what used to be called "camp" to set up this sort of irony, but the stories do not come across. Wagner does much better when he writes in his own manner. Yet there is one bit of declamation in "Blue Lady, Come Home" that delights me. As the murderous hack writer is about to shoot his friend, he declares, "Writers don't have friends. Only deadlines. And cheating publishers. And meddling editors. And carping reviewers." Should I say, "Touche'," or "It was easy"?
E.F. Bleiler is the author of "The Guide to Supernatural Fiction" and editor of "Supernatural Fiction: Fantasy and Horror."