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  1. #61

    “Conversations in a Dead Language” by Thomas Ligotti

    (Noctuary; The Nightmare Factory; October Dreams ed. Richard Chizmar [a.k.a. Halloween Horrors from Barnes and Noble]; Halloween ed. Paula Guran)

    After changing out of his uniform, he went downstairs to search the kitchen drawers, rattling his way through cutlery and cooking utensils. Finally he found what he wanted. A carving knife, a holiday knife, the traditional blade he’d used over the years. Knifey-wifey. (first paragraph)

    Ligotti’s main character is a mailman who lives alone, visits his invalid mother and takes her to church every Sunday. He also enjoys Halloween. But his enjoyment isn’t just about the candy or the costumes, no, he likes the children. His own childhood fears predispose him to think about the children. But there may be a cost for those thoughts or, more to the point, for acting on his thoughts.

    I take it back. Some of it, anyway. In another thread I mentioned this is one of my least favorite stories by Ligotti, which is still true, but it’s a better story than I remembered, just not a real Ligotti story. This story feels closer to what most horror writers write than to what Ligotti writes. Some of the hallmarks are there: A creepy main character and a narrative voice you’re not sure you can trust. But Ligotti’s usual surreality, or non-reality, or call it Ligotti-reality which impinges on the work-a-day world, or at least impinges on the minds of his characters, isn’t fully in effect in this story. There is another reality beyond the main character’s perspective, and he comes in contact with it, but it’s not beyond what other writers could imagine in the way that, say, “The Frolic” or “Les Fleurs” or “Teattro Grotesco” or “Nethescurial” or “The Glamour” or “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World” or “The Last Feast of Harlequin” seem uniquely, distinctly Ligottian.

    And maybe that makes this story a good point of entry into Ligotti’s work. I think what makes this story effective stems from maintaining a certain tone, a tone that starts in that first paragraph quoted above. Ligotti keeps a tight focus on the mailman’s point of view, what he’s feeling and thinking, without telling too much. But little phrases and phrasings like “Knifey-wifey” keep us wondering about him, about his motivations, about what he will do and what will happen next.

    Other works by Thomas Ligotti: Grimscribe (which includes “The Glamour,” “Nethescurial” and “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World”; those last two can also be found in The Shadow at the Bottom of the World); My Work is Not Yet Done (more overtly physically violent than anything else I’ve read by Ligotti); “The Frolic,” “Les Fleurs,” and “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story” (all in Songs of a Dead Dreamer; The Nightmare Factory; “Notes…” is also in American Gothic Tales ed. Joyce Carol Oates and American Fantastic Tales [vol. 2] ed. Peter Straub); “Teattro Grotesco” (The Nightmare Factory; The Shadow at the Bottom of the World; Teattro Grotesco)

    Weird (though not necessarily all horror):
    The Motion Demon by Stefan Grabinski
    The Nightcharmer and Other Stories by Claude Seignolle;
    War of the Newts by Karel Copek

    As Mark has pointed out in other threads, earlier this month Jeff and Ann Vandermeer’s anthology The Weird was published in the U.K. They had posted the table of contents at their website and I realized I’d read a selection of their selection, some of which have been mentioned throughout this thread. This is the list of what I’ve read, and I’d recommend searching out any or all:
    F. Marion Crawford, “The Screaming Skull,” 1908
    Algernon Blackwood, “The Willows,” 1907
    Saki, “Sredni Vashtar,” 1910
    M.R. James, “Casting the Runes,” 1911
    Hanns Heinz Ewers, “The Spider,” 1915 (translation, Germany)
    Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” 1919 (translation, German/Czech)
    H.P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror,” 1929
    Jean Ray, “The Shadowy Street,” 1931 (translation, Belgium)
    Fritz Leiber, “Smoke Ghost,” 1941
    Ray Bradbury, “The Crowd,” 1943
    Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph,” 1945 (translation, Argentina)
    Shirley Jackson, “The Summer People,” 1950
    Robert Bloch, “The Hungry House,” 1951
    Jerome Bixby, “It’s a Good Life,” 1953
    Julio Cortazar, “Axolotl,” 1956 (new translation by Gio Clairval, Argentina)
    Charles Beaumont, “The Howling Man,” 1959
    Claude Seignolle, “The Ghoulbird,” 1967 (new translation by Gio Clairval, France) [previously titled in English, “The Nightcharmer” – rbm]
    Daphne Du Maurier, “Don’t Look Now,” 1971
    Robert Aickman, “The Hospice,” 1975
    George R.R. Martin, “Sandkings,” 1979
    Bob Leman, “Window,” 1980
    Michael Shea, “The Autopsy,” 1980
    Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild,” 1984
    Poppy Z Brite, “His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood,” 1990
    Karen Joy Fowler, “The Dark,” 1991
    Kathe Koja, “Angels in Love,” 1991
    Stephen King, “The Man in the Black Suit,” 1994
    Kelly Link, “The Specialist’s Hat,” 1998
    Caitlin R. Kiernan, “A Redress for Andromeda,” 2000
    Mark Samuels, “The White Hands,” 2003

    Randy M.
    Last edited by Randy M.; December 6th, 2011 at 10:58 AM.

  2. #62

    “Struwwelpeter” by Glen Hirshberg

    (The Two Sams; Halloween ed. Paula Guran)

    This was before we knew about Peter, or at least before we understood what we knew, and my mother says it’s impossible to know a thing like that anyway. She’s wrong, though, and she doesn’t need me to tell her she is, either. (first paragraph)

    On the last Halloween night shared by four kids, all around 12-years-old, Kelly and Jenny, sisters, Peter and Andrew, our narrator, the fissures between them, already appearing, begin to widen. Peter holds a fascination for the others – “He was like a planet we visited, cold and rocky and probably lifeless, and we kept coming because it was all so strange, so different than what we knew” – as well as for his father, who sometimes calls him Struwwelpeter. Peter is smart, calculating, daring, and fearless, especially in the face of challenges and opposition. On this night, Peter leads them to a house he and Andrew had found two years earlier, before they met the girls, a house in the yard of which the grass is cut in the pattern of a circle in which there is a triangle, a house with a gazebo from the ceiling of which hangs a huge white bell, a bell an old man told them could raise the dead.

    The horror story presents its writer with an aesthetic challenge: How do you lend a story immediacy without falling into the silly or overblown? For instance one of the most frequent tactics used to parody Lovecraft, is high-lighting the silliness of an ending he used a couple of times – and his imitators overused – in which the narrator continues to jot down description of the ravenous indescribable slouching toward him with intent to nosh: “… it’s through the door, sliding across the carpet! Oh, the noxious vision of gloom! … It’s got my leg! … It’s … aaaaaaaa “. But most ways of writing a story have limitations: Past tense often implies the threat is past; present tense can fall into a similar trap to the example above, the appearance of the narrator scribbling or typing away at the height of the action or awkward exposition in ducking that appearance; first person implies the narrator survived which may handicap suspense. In this case Hirshberg chose first person narration, past tense, and it works because “Struwwelpeter” examines memory and knowledge and guilt. Andrew relates his memories of Peter, what he already knew about Peter, and in the process raises the question of what we know and if we should be accountable for what we know: Can you guess the actions a person will take as an adult from the child you knew? There are things you think and things you suppose, but can you be sure until the person’s actions confirm those thoughts and suspicions? And if you haven’t spoken, are you an accessory? Can you be guilty for not extrapolating from what you saw? Or, more accurately, for not acting on what you extrapolated? This is what Andrew lives with.

    “Struwwelpeter,” according to Paula Guran, comes from an old book for children, a book I suspect is rather like the book in “The Game of Bear” by M. R. James and Reggie Oliver, in which the stories and illustrations exaggerate the consequences of misbehavior so severely as to be horrific; Struwwelpeter doesn’t cut his hair or nails and so no one likes him.

    Other fine stories by Glen Hirshberg: The Two Sams (story collection); “Shomer” (The Best Horror of the Year, vol. 3 ed. Ellen Datlow); “The Nimble Men” (The Best Horror of the Year, vol. 2 ed. Ellen Datlow)

    Other thoughtful, sad horror stories: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner (Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner; Collected Stories; Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise & Phyllis Fraser); “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken (The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken; Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise & Phyllis Fraser); “Angels in Love” by Kathe Koja (Extremities; The Weird ed. Jeff and Ann Vandermeer); “The Paperhanger” by William Gay (I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down); “The Box” by Jack Ketchum (Peaceable Kingdom; Stranger ed. Michele Slung)

    Randy M.

  3. #63

    “The October Game” by Ray Bradbury

    (Long After Midnight; The Stories of Ray Bradbury; Halloween ed. Paula Guran)

    He put the gun back in the bureau drawer and shut the drawer. (first paragraph)

    How can it be Halloween and not feature a Bradbury story?

    If we could plot horror story plots, I think we might find significant clusters around two poles: One, stories that try to surprise us and, two, stories that pretty much announce the ending at the beginning. Bradbury’s “The October Game” would be near the latter. We may not know precisely what will happen, but we have suspicions, and we’re fairly certain from the start of when it will happen and who will do it.

    This is another Bradbury story about family. “Homecoming,” another story set at Halloween, looks at family through the eyes of the youngest child, the one with the least in common with his remarkable family, the one mortal among a group of immortals. “Heavy Set” looks at family from a more jaundiced perspective. About “The October Game,” last year I wrote, “It’s easy to forget. It’s so often hidden behind the joyousness, the exuberance, the glee in vagaries of life. But it’s there, that sharp edge of understanding, the acknowledgement of the evil in some people. This one feels like Bradbury channeling Poe, acknowledging the potential for disaffection in a family.” And I haven’t changed my mind. This time it’s about a family that isn’t cohering, a family coming apart, though the adults try to look normal. Except one parent has an agenda, a way to hurt the other.

    Bradbury may well go down as one of the great short story writers of the 20th century. His novels have their good points, but his stories come together better for me. And when he wants to, he can write a story as menacing as those of any writer of his time.

    Bradbury Halloween: The Halloween Tree; “Homecoming” (The October Country; The Stories of Ray Bradbury; Ray Bradbury Stories, Vol. 1; The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories ed. Tom Shippey); “Heavy-set” (I Sing the Body Electric! and Other Stories; October Dreams ed. Richard Chizmar [reissued as Halloween Horrors for Barnes and Noble]). Associational October reading, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

    Other non-supernatural horror stories: Psycho by Robert Bloch; The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson; The Face that Must Die by Ramsey Campell; Red Dragon & The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris; A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan; From Hell by Alan Moore (graphic novel; Eddie Campbell, artist); “The Terribly Strange Bed” by Wilkie Collins (Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise & Phyllis Fraser; The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time ed. Otto Penzler); “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” by Thomas Burke (The Golden Gong and Other Stories; The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time ed. Otto Penzler); “Two Bottles of Relish” by Lord Dunsany (In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales; The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time ed. Otto Penzler); “A Rose for Emily” William Faulkner (The Collected Stories of William Faulkner; Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural ed. Herbert Wise & Phyllis Fraser; The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales ed. Chris Baldick; American Gothic Tales ed. Joyce Carol Oates); “Evening Primrose” & “The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It” by John Collier (Fancies and Goodnights; “Evening Primrose” also in The Dark Descent ed. David Hartwell, and American Fantastic Tales [vol. 2] ed. Peter Straub); “Night They Missed the Horror Show” & “Drive-In Date” by Joe R. Lansdale (both in High Cotton); “The Paperhanger” by William Gay (I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down)

    Happy Halloween, everyone!

    Randy M.

  4. #64
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Jul 2001
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    Thanks, Randy: another brilliant set of posts...

    Have reread Bradbury's The Crowd, which is in The Weird.

    Of course, Something Wicked This Way Comes is perhaps my favourite Bradbury: distils most of his regular interests into a creepy, creepy novel. Peter Crowther (of PS Publishing) says it's his favourite novel.

    Happy Halloween, everyone: hope it's a good one!


  5. #65
    Registered User Loerwyn's Avatar
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    Jun 2009
    Indeed, got to echo Mark on both counts. You've done a lot of work, Randy, and you should give yourself a pat on the back!

    Now to spend the evening ignoring the door...

  6. #66
    Quote Originally Posted by Loerwyn View Post
    Indeed, got to echo Mark on both counts. You've done a lot of work, Randy, and you should give yourself a pat on the back!

    Now to spend the evening ignoring the door...
    I don't know if that's wise. Since it's Halloween it's possible if you ignore the door it'll get angry, come over and knock on you.

    Thanks, Loerwyn. And thanks, Mark. It's been fun, and I hope someone found a title or two of interest.

    Randy M.

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