Apologies for the long hiatus, gentle readers. It has been a strange and difficult few weeks. More on that in subsequent posts. For now, here’s a couple of holiday-time suggestions for what to get the horror junkie in your life. For my money, there’s nothing better than a scary book, unless it’s a scary book in a really fancy edition. Here are two of this year’s best.
Tales of Terror
Tales of Terror, by Guy de Maupassant
Introduction by Ramsey Campbell
Published by Tartarus Press, Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Many years ago, perusing horror paperbacks at Adams Avenue Books, I happened upon The Dark Side: Tales of Terror and the Supernatural by Guy de Maupassant, selected and translated by Arnold Kellett. Prior to this, I knew Maupassant only from frequently anthologized stories like “The Necklace” and “The Lady or the Tiger.” Standing there in the store, I read Kellett’s introduction, in which he explained how Maupassant—an absinthe drinking, red windmill frequenting Parisian of the late 1800s—contracted syphilis from a prostitute and went slowly insane before taking his own life in a lunatic asylum. In fact, many of the stories in this book had been written while his brain was being eaten away by the disease. Of course, I had to buy it.
There are some great horror stories in Dark Side. There’s “A Night in Paris,” where the city of lights is mysteriously empty of people. There’s “The Hand,” possibly the first effort in the severed-hand-that-comes-to-life sub-genre. My personal favorite is “Who Knows?” A young country lord, returning on foot from a late night at the opera, discovers that all his furniture has come alive and is fleeing from the house. Maupassant beautifully describes the piano galloping past, “rattling and tinkling with music.” These tales of terror are wild and improbable, the hothouse orchids of literature. Like life itself, they are strangely shaped and hard to predict. Sadly, Dark Side has been out of print since it’s paperback publication in 1990. Until now.
Tartarus has brought back Dark Side under a new title with one additional story—“Mademoiselle Perle”—and their usual sterling production values. A small press in the true sense of the word, Tartarus crafts books in the Victorian style. Thick, acid-free pages with wide margins. Sewn binding. And very limited press runs. Many of their previous books have become valuable collector’s items. I’ve already ordered mine.
Fair warning: This is a pricey book. $55, unless you pay with PayPal, in which case you’ll save a couple dollars on the exchange rates. With an official publication date of December 11, and mail service from the UK being what it is, this one might not arrive in time for Christmas.
The New Annotated Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Edited by Leslie Kilinger, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
I know most readers hate footnotes and annotations. Kilinger’s genius as an editor and annotator lies not in the considerable depth of his research, but in the fact he makes his notes fun. How? By treating the events of Dracula as though they had really occurred. For example, he speculates on whether or not Stoker changed the names of his principle characters to protect their true identities. While Kilinger’s tongue is firmly planted in his cheek, his tone remains deadly serious throughout. As a result, his notes are at least as entertaining as the text of Dracula itself.
This too is a nice looking book. While the large trim size makes it a bit unwieldy, the flocks of Dracula related illustrations and photos ranging from the Victorian period to the present more than make up for this difficulty. The usual handful of Dracula related essays rounds out the book, though once again Kilinger strives to make these enjoyable to non-academic readers. The New Annotated Dracula has a cover price of $39.95, but the mainstream press rollout means that it can be had for considerably less (Amazon). I’m hoping to find this one under the tree this year myself, assuming I can stay off the Naughty List.