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A CENTURY OF HORROR PART TWO: Six Months Later

June 2000 By Paula Guran
(with considerable help from her friends)

[Note: You might want to read A CENTURY OF HORROR:, the first part of this two-parter.]

Back in January I had the audacity to try to compile "a list of one hundred meritorious books of horror published between the years 1900 and 2000." (See A CENTURY OF HORROR ) At the time I knew there were choices I would later regret, that some choices would be controversial, that I simply would have forgotten some, that I didn't know everything for pity's sake, etc., etc. I figured you readers would correct, suggest, and chastise.

Feh. A lot of help most of you were. Thank goodness a few folks stepped forward to assert some opinion or I might have been left to assume my list-making to be immaculate.

My fellow horror goddess Fiona Webster was probably the most help. [She even caught two typos. These two SHOULD read: 88. Patrick Suuml;skind: Perfume (1984) and 92. Thomas Tryon: The Other (1971) ] Fiona, bless her dark little heart wrote:

Lists of this ilk are certainly not easy to compile, especially when we must wait for the tincture of time to reveal the true winners, but you have done well. I especially appreciate that in choosing only one book from each author, you were able to include a wide range from the familiar genre names (Barker, Bloch, King) to those better known as "mainstream" writers (Cooper, Crews, McCarthy, O'Connor).

Rather than suggesting changes to the list -- which would just a game of "if I ran the zoo"--I'd simply like to draw your readers' attention to some authors not listed, whom they might wish to explore. Some of the books on my list are important for having contributed lasting images to the history of horror (e.g., Gaston Leroux's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). Some are borderline horror writers from outside the genre (e.g., John Hawkes). Others are just personal favorites of mine (e.g., Simon Maginn's SHEEP). I've limited my enthusiasm to an arbitrary number of forty titles. None of the authors overlap with [the original] list.

40 More Greats of the 20th Century
by Fiona Webster

  • E. F. Benson: The Room in the Tower and Other Stories (1912)
  • Paul Bowles: The Delicate Prey and Other Stories (1950)
  • A. M. Burrage: Some Ghost Stories (1927)
  • Dino Buzzati: Catastrophe: The Strange Stories of Dino Buzzati (1965)
  • Jack Cady: The Well (1980)
  • Fred Chappell: Dagon (1968)
  • Walter de la Mare, Walter: The Best Stories of Walter de la Mare (1942)
  • Guy Endore: The Werewolf of Paris (1933)
  • Brian Evenson: Father of Lies (1998)
  • John Fowles: The Collector (1963)
  • Douglas Clegg: The Nightmare Chronicles (1999)
  • Stefan Grabínski: The Dark Domain (1993) [tales from 1919-22]
  • Stephen Gregory: The Woodwitch (1988)
  • M. John Harrison: The Ice Monkey (1983)
  • L. P. Hartley: The Complete Short Stories of L. P. Hartley (1986) [tales mostly from the 20s]
  • John Hawkes: The Lime Twig-Second Skin-Travesty (1996) [3 short novels]
  • James Hynes: Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Terror and Tenure (1997)
  • Rachel Ingalls: Mrs. Caliban (1983)
  • Gerald Kersh: Nightshades and Damnations (1968)
  • Joel Lane: The Earth Wire (1994)
  • Gaston Leroux: The Phantom of the Opera (1910)
  • Doris Lessing: The Fifth Child (1988)
  • Jean Lorrain: Monsieur de Phocas (1901)
  • Simon Maginn: Sheep (1996)
  • Gustav Meyrink: The Golem (1914)
  • Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
  • Eric McCormack: Inspecting the Vaults (1986)
  • Michael McDowell: The Elementals (1981)
  • Dennis McFarland: A Face at the Window (1997)
  • Stewart O'Nan: A Prayer for the Dying (1999)
  • Oliver Onions: Widdershins (1911)
  • Jean Ray: Ghouls in My Grave (1965) [tales from 20s & 30s]
  • Mark Richard: Fishboy: A Ghost's Story (1993)
  • Saki (H. H. Munro): The Complete Short Stories of Saki (1930)
  • Michael Shea: Polyphemus (1987)
  • Muriel Spark: Open to the Public (1998)
  • Lucy Taylor: The Flesh Artist (1994)
  • Roland Topor: The Tenant (1964)
  • Lisa Tuttle: A Nest of Nightmares (1986)
  • Chet Williamson: Ash Wednesday (1987)
Fiona is right in absolutely every instance. No quibbles. Add her forty to my 100.

Mike O'Driscoll, who does a horror column, "Voices from the Shadows," for webzine At the World's End, mentioned the article in March. Mike's usually pretty nice, even when he disagrees with me. He mentioned the "widely varying selection, some predictable and quite a few that will surprise some readers of the genre." He felt some of the selections for authors were good, but was "not sure the same can be said for other authors who are represented here by collections rather than their novels. Is Dan Simmons's collection LOVEDEATH more truly indicative of his work in the genre than either CARRION COMFORT or SONG OF KALI? And while SWAMP FOETUS is a fine collection of Poppy Brite's shorter work, I find the longer form allows her more space to develop her characters and themes and so would have chosen EXQUISITE CORPSE. And Nancy Collins's NAMELESS SINS over SUNGLASSES AFTER DARK -- I don't think so." He also chided me for allowing "public and critical acclaim" to influence my choices as when I chose "GHOST STORY over what she considers superior work by Peter Straub. If either FLOATING DRAGON or MISTER X are superior to GHOST STORY (and I agree that they are) then she should have opted for one of them. Yet at the same time -- and fine book though it is -- the choice of Jonathan Carroll's first novel LAND OF LAUGHS over either his critically acclaimed collection THE PANIC HAND or the genuinely dark and disturbing A CHILD ACROSS THE SKY on ground of 'accessibility', is not only contradictory but puzzling."

Actually, in Straub's case I might have opted for collection HOUSES WITHOUT DOORS over the other novels. Perhaps -- and here's the answer for Collins, Brite, and Simmons, too -- I just have a weakness for the short form? I think I justified Jonathan Carroll's LAND OF LAUGHS because subconsciously I felt I needed a book that was an "introduction" to Carroll. Perhaps I should not have so insulted my audience and, instead stuck with the aforementioned proclivity for collections and cited THE PANIC HAND.

Brian Dunn wrote to comment he'd "love to see a list where the compiler says 'the hell with it,' and stacks it with a half-dozen titles by a favorite author or two. For instance, I'd have included SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King -- the first horror novel I'd ever read -- and HELL HOUSE by Richard Matheson (being fourteen and bored to death in a dull but not-quite-so isolated rural town similar to Jerusalem's Lot gave the former a nice kick, and the latter's themes of repressed sexuality was a nicely played surprise. One wonders if written today Belasco's height would have been the inadequacy that kept him in the shadows)."

Hmmm. If I ever try the "stacking" method, it would be probably be heavily weighted toward current writers and, uh, did I mention I really love short fiction?

Brian also wanted to know a little more about "titles that do not ring a bell, such as SWEETHEART, SWEETHEART by Bernard Taylor, or MEDUSA by E.H. Visiak." Essays on both titles can both be found in the invaluable HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. The Taylor novel is a 1977 ghost story that Charles L. Grant aptly sums up as "at once heartbreaking and horrifying...the mark of a potential classic." Visiak's MEDUSA was first published in 1929, and Brian wasn't the only person to write me wondering about it. It did come back into print in the sixties. Karl Edward Wagner described it as "the probable outcome of Herman Melville having written TREASURE ISLAND while tripping on LSD. I can't add much to that, except to suggest that John Milton may have popped round on his way home from a week in an opium den to help him revise the final draft. We're talking heavy surreal here...It might make you think, and then it might really scare you." I'd love to see both back in print. I'd love to see a LOT of these books back in print...

Scott Nicholson weighed in with what he considers a glaring omission: "...MAGIC by William Goldman is perhaps the best novel of psychological horror ever penned, by one of this century's top writers." He had a view negative words about some current writers on the list, we'll overlook, but Bernard Taylor surfaces again : "[H]ow a clunkmeister like Bernard Taylor can appear on the same list as Ray Bradbury is beyond me. And if Cormac McCarthy is on there, then Stewart O'Nan's 1999 novel A PRAYER FOR THE DYING also deserves a place." Well, I'll take the Goldman and defend the Taylor (see above) although I'll admit it's a detailed "old-fashioned" sort of novel that not everyone might like. As for the O'Nan -- the book is a wonder and most decidedly belongs on any "best" list. I just hadn't read it when the list was compiled. (Note that Fiona included it as well.)

"Also," says Scott, "where's Phil Rickman, perhaps the greatest living anonymous horror writer?" Okay, Scott wasn't thrilled with Taylor, I'm not all that impressed with Rickman. Maybe Rickman should be there. Maybe. "For James Herbert, the classic HAUNTED is perhaps his representative novel. And Whitley Streiber and John Farris should yield their venerable positions to people who know the craft. L. Ron Hubbard may not be the politically-correct choice, but FEAR makes most people's top-ten lists (mine, too.)" Like Rickman, Herbert is another writer who isn't a personal favorite, so he may be correct on the selection. The individual Streiber and Farris picks, however, probably deserve to be there. I've honestly never read the Hubbard and no one else mentioned it that I recall, so I'll give it a pass. "If we stretch the definition of horror to include Toni Morrison, then why not take in H.G. Wells instead?" Scott concludes. Well, because even though H. G. Wells continued to write until 1946, his best work came before 1900: THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1895), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1897), and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898).

Okay, so we've added at least another forty-one titles to our 100, maybe forty-two and I'll switch the Herbert titles on Scott's expertise and take Carroll's THE PANIC HAND instead of LAND OF LAUGHS. I'm willing to go farther (or debate a bit) if you have more suggestions to make. Just email me at darkecho@darkecho.com with 100 BOOKS as the subject. Maybe I'll still do a sequel some day. How about SON OF THE 100...or RETURN OF THE 100...or THE 100 RIDES AGAIN...or CURSE OF THE 100...or....


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