The Third Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories ed. by Christine Bernard (Fontana, March, 1968)
"Spine chilling horror! 11 grisly masterpieces of the macabre!"
R. C. Cook - Green Fingers Stanley Ellin - The Speciality Of The House E. F. Benson - The Room In The Tower David Ely - The Academy J. D. Beresford - Cut-throat Farm Henry James - The Romance Of Certain Old Clothes Roald Dahl - Poison H. R. Wakefield - Lucky's Grove R. Chetwynd-Hayes - Housebound H. P. Lovecraft & August Derleth - The Shuttered Room Rudyard Kipling - At The End Of The Passage
I've lazily copped Dem's contents list from the old place, added my few bits, and now I'll leave Dem' to grab his other bits from there, too.
The Room in the Tower by E F Benson: The young man is an habitual dreamer, but it is one particular recurring dream that troubles him. He dreams that he visits a house, and has tea with the family in the garden; and then at the end, the lady of the house tells him that he will be shown to his room: he has been given the room in the tower. He dreams this at least once a month for many years; and, strangely, as the years pass, changes appear in the family: a daughter disappears, is married; the lady of the house grows grey. Then one day he finds himself entering the gates of that house. E F Benson, credited with the invention of the psychological horror story, created a masterpiece in this one. It is genuinely frightening, seems only to improve with age, and must bear favourable comparison with Henry James's The Turn of the Screw.
The Romance of Certain Old Clothes by Henry James: The widowed Mrs Wingrave has two daughters, Rosalind and Perdita. When their brother returns from England, he brings with him his friend Arthur Lloyd, and it soon becomes clear that it's only a matter of time before he marries one of the girls. He does, but soon after the birth of their first child, the first Mrs Lloyd dies. She abjures her husband not to let her sister have her fine wardrobe of clothes, to keep them safe for her daughter. As she has anticipated, her sister does get around Arthur, and in time they are wed; and when his fortune begins to fail, she complains terribly that she cannot enjoy at least the luxury of the fine clothes that her sister before her wore. A tale of vengeance from beyond the grave...or the wardrobe. Engaging, but hardly horrific.
Poison by Roald Dahl: Timber gets home to find Harry Pope lying in bed, in a state of terror. A krait is lying under the sheets, on Harry's stomach, and any movement might wake it and bring a horrible death to Harry. Timber immediately phones for Dr Ganderbai's help. The story is well written, and Dahl's stories were inevitable then - as is the end of this.
At the End of the Passage by Rudyard Kipling: This account of four Englishmen in India who get together once a week to play cards is less a study in horror than despair. Hummil has been suffering from sleeplessness and when he does sleep it's to dream of a blind face chasing him down corridors, a nightmare so terrifying that he sleeps with a rising spur in his bed to wake him if he should move in the night. He begs Spurstow to give him something to help him sleep - but it must be something that will send him straight into a deep, dreamless sleep, not into that nightmare.
There are moments of horror - Mottram leaning over a dead colleague's face and muttering 'You lucky, lucky devil!' - but the tiny central story of the nightmare is just a spark in this impressive account of heat, dust, boredom and sickness in India. Compelling.
A pity that not more original stories were included in this collection. Cook's Green Fingers is an unexpectedly strong story and gets the collection off to a great start with its striking imagery of creatures growing from the inside out in the snow.
Benson's The Room in the Tower and Kipling's At the End of the Passage are two other high points. The Henry James story is a bit on the long side and really would have been better fitted to a collection of ghost stories.
"What are you going to do now, Quatermass?"[br][br]"Start again."
R. C. Cook - Green Fingers: Old widow Bowen prides herself on being able to make "anything grow" in her garden. this seems to be true. Even tropical plants entirely unsuited to the climate flourish as do a piece of firewood, a tuft of her hair, a fingernail ...
When the rabbit she buried grows back from a skeleton and runs off, Mrs Bowen begins to worry. She tries to chop down the tree but it resents any attempt at keeping it in check and the widow succeeds only in slicing off her finger with an axe. She plants the severed digit, too - and a replica widow Bowen shoots up from the soil. Comes the day with the fully-grown double uproots itself ...
Shortly afterwards in the coppice, the body of an old woman is found chopped into pieces ...
J. D. Beresford - Cut-Throat Farm: Mawdsley: the narrator wonders why the hostile locals refer to Valley Farm by its more macabre nickname. He doesn't have long to find out because he's staying as a paying guest of the grim old couple who live there. The pair, down on their luck, slaughter their scrawny livestock to feed him. What will happen when they've exhausted the meagre supply?
David Ely - The Academy: A place for parents to send their sons during their "difficult years" to drill all of that juvenile spirit out of them. Zombie farming.
R. Chetwynd-Hayes - Housebound: The ghost of bank-robber Charlie Wheatland was killed in a siege at the Coopers' new house. Celia, fifty and fed up, develops the power to draw his ghost out of the woodwork. At first he appears as a black, vaguely human shape, but gradually Wheatland manifests in all his former glory and asks what she requires of him. Celia decides she wants him to murder Harold, her boring, selfish other half. "No, I cannot kill, only free your husband from his body. Order me to free your husband from his body." Celia does, but what will become of Harold's vacant body?
H. R. Wakefield - Lucky's Grove: Christmas Day, 1938, and "the cream of North Berkshire society" descend on the Braxton's snowbound Abindale Hall. Unfortunately, Mr. Braxton's land agent, Curtis, has retrieved their splendid tree from the locally shunned Lucky's Grove. The larch in question, furious at being uprooted and festooned in Disney characters, wreaks spectacular Norse God-assisted vengeance, and deforming the snowman is the least of it. It all makes for an interesting holiday and gives the survivors much to ponder.
This was the first horror collection I read ,bought to keep me occupied on a ferry journey to Ireland when I was about eleven or twelve. Green Fingers and The Room in the Tower were favourites of mine at the time and this volume is probably responsible for my lifelong interest in horror anthologies.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty. - Christine Campbell Thomson
Just re-read and reviewed the unmitigated story LUCKY’S GROVE (1940) by H. R. Wakefield and found this in it… (the only character with her name in full, I think.)
“Mary had just picked up little Angela Rayner so that she could reach her card, when the child screamed out and pulled away her hand. ‘The worm!’ she cried, and a thick, black-grey, squirming maggot fell from her fingers to the floor and writhed away.”