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HORROR 101: BACK TO THE BASICS
Professor: Paula Guran
Fall Semester, September 1999

Welcome back to school, class! Check your registration cards and make sure you are in the correct section of HORROR 101: BACK TO THE BASICS. Although you can repeat the course, we normally do not allow you to take any more advanced instruction until you've completed this one.

As is made obvious with the texts listed on your hand-out -- this is neither an overview or a history course. The intent of Horror 101 is to instill in the modern reader not just an acceptance or even an appreciation of pre-1967 horror, but to...

Yes? Question? Why pre-1967? For the purposes of our curriculum we use 1967 as a historic date: Ira Levin's ROSEMARY'S BABY was published that year. You'll understand more about that when you take the fourth part of the History of Horror class.

As I was saying...our intent here is to demonstrate -- even at the dawn of a new century -- many "classic" works of horror are more than merely required, educational reading. They are not stale and musty, but remain vital, effective, enjoyable fiction for the modern reader. Not that these are all "easy reads!" But we assume you wouldn't be here if you wanted only a stack of V. C. Andrews paperbacks. Nor is this an inclusive course -- there are MANY more examples we could offer.

skull on book Additionally, there is another requirement for our books for the course: They must be easily and readily available for purchase in affordable, non-limited editions. In some cases suitable samples of an author's work are available in our general text for the course -- like Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan," for example or the two Saki stories. In some cases -- Blackwood, Lovecraft, Poe, etc. -- additional reading is listed. We've made "easy availabilty" really easy. Just click on any underlined title and you can buy the book from Amazon.com. Where applicable, we've provided a link to a free Web version.

An option to this course -- but one any serious student of horror will wish to pursue -- is the book HORROR 100 BEST BOOKS (Carroll & Graf, 1997) edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. Not only does it offer short essays on the eponymous tomes, but a lengthy, if admittedly arbitrary, "List of Recommended Reading" from 458 BC through AD 1997.

You might also be surprised at a few of the inclusions on this list, but remember the words by which we define horror here, as Douglas E. Winter, noted critic, author and anthologist (you passed his statue there in the lobby as you entered) has stated: "Horror is not a genre like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction meant to be confined to the ghetto of a single shelf in bookstores or the library. Horror is an emotion."

Now, let's go over some of the hand-out...

The general text is:
GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL
by Phyllis Cerf Wagner (Editor), Herbert Wise (Editor)
$24.95/ Modern Library/ ISBN: 0679601287

book cover Although female writers are vastly under-represented, this is an otherwise excellent (and huge) compendium of pre-World War Two horror. First published in 1944, it was unrivaled as THE all-encompassing anthology until the 1987 publication of David G. Hartwell's THE DARK DESCENT. Among its fifty-two tales are Oliver Onions' "The Beckoning Fair One," W. W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw"; Saki's "Sredni Vashtar" and "The Open Window"; Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"; and Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" as well as stories by Edgar Allan Poe, E.F. Benson, H.G. Wells, Ambrose Bierce, Rudyard Kipling, Walter de la Mare, M.R. James, Guy de Maupassant, Algernon Blackwood, Ernest Hemingway O. Henry, Henry James, Dorothy L. Sayers, Isak Dinesen, and H.P. Lovecraft. Biographical introductions are included. Don't try to cram reading time on this one. Each story should be savored.

The other texts (in chronological order):

COMPLETE STORIES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE BY EDGAR ALLAN POE
(earliest story first published 1833)

Poe, according to John M. Ford, "told us what horror was, and where it comes from in terms that will carry the message as long as horror and its source exist; which is to say, as long as we are human." We are still human and Poe still chills the blood. You might as well get a "complete" edition -- even though even the most avid Poe-lover will admit his work is remarkably uneven -- as several are available at bargain prices. All of Poe's 68 stories and 47 poems as well as the novella. "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," 13 of Poe's most important critical essays are included in the Random House and B&N editions, the Doubleday may not have the essays -- but any edition will do. There are even less expensive and not so complete paperback editions that include the best of Poe's stories that would be suitable for the course. And there are selected works of Poe available online: here and elsewhere.

book cover

THE COMPLETE TALES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
by Edgar Allan Poe
Random House/$16.00/PB
ISBN: 0394716787

book cover THE COMPLETE TALES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
by Edgar Allan Poe
Hardcover B&N exclusive edition of the book above
Barnes & Noble/$19.98/HC.
ISBN: 1566196035

book cover COMPLETE STORIES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
by Edgar Allan Poe
Doubleday /$21.95/HC
ISBN: 0385074077


"The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892)
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
(Although frequently anthologized, this story is also available onlne. We just wanted to be sure you didn't miss it one way or another.)

This story is often touted as an example of early feminist writing portraying the oppression and repression of women. It may have those elements, but it's also an insidiously horrifying tale about a young wife/mother who, under the "care" of her husband and a male doctor, undergoes a rest "cure " (in an atmospheric house) involving the complete absence of intellectual stimulation and the emotional and mental deterioration she experiences. Other than that, you must interpret as you, the reader, sees fit.

"The Turn of the Screw " (1898)
by Henry James
(There are MANY books that contain this as well as stand-alone editions starting as low as $1.00; The University of Maryland has an online version and there are several versions at Project Gutenberg

Disturbing and mysterious, this novella remains a truly suspenseful spine-tingler. A governess believes the two orphaned children in her care are being controlled by ghosts, ghosts that only she can see. Provocative, full of sexual and psychological ambiguity and unanswered questions, its brevity helps the modern reader cope with James's century-old style.

GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY (1904)
by Montague Rhodes James; Everett F. Bleiler (Editor)
Dover/$5.95/PB
ISBN: 0486227588
(There are also free online versions of some of James's stories; try this one.)

Geoff Ryman wrote that M. R. James could "write about the vile and horrific without seeming to smear it over himself or you. His stories are rich in atmosphere, inexorable in construction -- and describe a world as circumscribed as Jane Austen's." James is probably a much more important influence on modern horror writing than generally credited

BEST GHOST STORIES OF ALGERNON BLACKWOOD(earliest story first published in 1906)
by Algernon Blackwood, Everett F. Bleiler (Editor)
Dover/$9.95/PB
ISBN: 0486229777

book cover Selected by noted expert E. F. Bleiler, this is a good sampling of Blackwood's tales including the outstandingly scary "The Willows," "The Listener," and "The Wendigo." Like most period pieces they take a bit of patience to get into, but the tension mounts and you soon realize Blackwood's claim to a personal preternatural awareness might have something to it. As Hillaire Belloc wrote, "A man in the middle of one of these stories does not leave it." Neither does a woman.

BEST OF H.P. LOVECRAFT : BLOODCURDLING TALES OF HORROR AND THE MACABRE (earliest story first published 1924)
by H. P. Lovecraft
Del Rey/ $10.00/PB/
ISBN: 0345350804

book cover Joyce Carol Oates wrote that Lovecraft is "the American writer of the twentieth century most frequently compared with Poe, in the quality of his art...[and] its thematic preoccupations (the obsessive depiction of psychic disintegration in the face of cosmic horror)." (Oates did her own collection of HPL, but this one is probably preferable for neophytes.) Considered the father of modern horror, Lovecraft still has a hold on many readers today. This first of three Del Rey reprint volumes offers 16 of the most accessible of his stylistically overblown stories including "The Rats in the Walls," "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror," "The Shadow Out of Time," and "The Colour Out of Space." Superb introduction by Robert Bloch.

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN (1939)
by Dalton Trumbo
Bantam/$6.99/PB
ISBN: 0553274325

book cover JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN has nothing to do with the supernatural, but everything to do with the horrific. Dark and powerfully disturbing, this challenging book unrelentingly immerses the reader in the horrors endured by a young American soldier who has lost his limbs, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The author's passionate anti-war message was central to his later blacklisting in the 50s, but whether you agree with his sentiment or not, you can't help but be affected by the emotion. (And, never forget class, that horror is not a genre, but an emotion.)

CONJURE WIFE
(First published as a magazine serial in 1943, as part of an omnibus in 1952, released as stand-alone novel in 1953)
by Fritz Leiber
Tor Books/$4.99/PB
ISBN: 0812512960
(A wo-books-in-one edition with OUR LADY OF DARKNESS)

book cover (OUR LADY OF DARKNESS can't be included here, since it was published in 1977, but read it later for extra credit and extra pleasure.) Frightening and thought-provoking, CONJURE WIFE is far more complex than a simple summation of its plot suggests: a personal narrative of a professorial husband who discovers his wife is a witch. David Pringle on CONJURE WIFE: "[A] frightening and at the same time amusing novel, based on the paranoid male's notion that all women are really witches. It has dated in certain obvious ways -- one is much more aware nowadays of the sexism and racism implicit in the whole basis of the narrative -- but nevertheless it remains a highly original, and seminal, tale of the supernatural. It may even have a strong appeal for female readers, since one can view the novel's central conceit as a quite deliberate attempt to undermine the whole business of masculine intellectual dominance: it adds up to a comic-horrific dream revenge by women on overweening male pride."

I AM LEGEND (1954)
by Richard Matheson
Tor Books;/$12.95/TPB
ISBN: 031286504X

book cover Originally marketed in 1954 as science fiction, this vampire novel takes place in a 1976 where evidently only one man is immune to a plague of vampirism that has decimated the world. As Richard Christian Matheson has written of his father's work, "The novel's layers are not unlike blood itself. Dense; intricate. Textured by a rich compositional weave. And in an era of AIDS, the global contagion which roves like some hideous vagabond, the ideas expressed in I AM LEGEND are especially disturbing and prophetic."

THE OCTOBER COUNTRY (1955)
By Ray Bradbury
Del Rey/$10.00/TPB
ISBN: 0345407857
(There's also a mass market version from Ballentine, but this one has a new introduction by the author)

book cover "THE OCTOBER COUNTRY is a special place of dark magic where so many discriminating readers have ventured time and time again...But that is understandable. This October Country is such a marvelous place, for all its fears, one hates to leave it." -- Joe Lansdale. Originally collected in the 1947 DARK CARNIVAL (Bradbury supposedly cut several stories from the original collection -- now a rare collector's item -- that he felt were too horrific) these stories are simply as exquisite as they are unforgettable.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (1959)
by Shirley Jackson
Penguin USA/$11.95/TPB
ISBN: 0140071083

book cover As Lisa Tuttle called it, "THE great modern novel of supernatural horror." Several people are brought together by a professor who wishes to investigate supposed paranormal phenomena in a country house. The dark energies of the house seem to somehow focus on Eleanor Vance -- an odd, lonely, somewhat mysterious 32-year-old woman. Despite the terrifying events that begin to occur, Eleanor feels -- for the first time in her life -- a sense of belonging and happiness in the strange house. Subtle, disarming, and chilling. (Jackson's WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE can be read for extra credit.)

THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH (1964)
by Philip K. Dick
Vintage/$11.00/TPB
ISBN: 0679736662

book cover Those of you who squirmed at some of the other inclusions on this list may be screaming in protest at THIS one. Set in the future and full of sci-fi accouterments like robo-cabs, shuttle rockets, and space colonies where life is bearable only under the influence of a drug that takes them to a cutesy Barbie-and-Ken existence. Introduction of a new drug, however, takes users even further -- past the bounds of anything imaginable. "...Dick had firm hold of something that seems to exceed the grasp of many horror writers...namely: there is nothing so frightening as the naked vulnerability of the human mind...Dick cuts across the grain of most other writers who traffic in horror. There is no way to tell what is real. There is no talisman, no silver bullet, no sword of cold iron to separate the holy from the unholy." Wildly imaginative, wickedly humorous, and profoundly mind-altering.


Any questions? Yes, you are absolutely right. Neither Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN or Bram Stoker's DRACULA are included on this list. I'm not sure that FRANKENSTEIN -- although certainly a masterpiece -- is completely palatable to the modern reader. And, although DRACULA may or may be to your liking -- really, haven't you already read it?

What if you feel the choices were incorrect? What if you are not affected, let alone enthralled by everything on the list? Frankly, we don't expect you to be. After all, you are horror readers -- a diverse group in a wide-ranging field. And that will be your final project: a paper on what you feel was the least suitable selections.

But for now, don't forget your first assignment as noted on your hand-out!

Class dismissed.


A note about the art used to accompany this "lesson": A fragment of Boy with Skull (Jeune homme a la tete de mort)
Paul Cézanne, 1896-1898 Full painting


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