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DECADES OF DARK STUFF 1890-1930

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Okay, instead of dialing back to Frankenstein or Poe, I'm going to start and the end of the 1890s, using The Lost Stradivarius by John Meade Falkner as our first "modern horror" novel. This was 1895, two years before Dracula. I just re-read this a year or so back and it holds up wonderfully well.

 

1897: Dracula - Bram Stoker (There are reasons why this book was a smash hit for thirty years before anyone had heard of Bela Lugosi.)

 

1898: The Beetle - Richard Marsh (The yin to Stoker's yang. Fast-paced to the point of leaving the reader gasping for breath.) Where Dracula is slow-moving and atmospheric, The Beetle is manic chaos and a great deal of fun. There are tons of cheap reprints out there. Buy one!

 

1907 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice - Hanns Heinz Ewers (The Frank Braun Trilogy spans four decades, so I wasn't entirely sure where to put it as it is basically one story broken into three books). Anyway, this is where it begins, if this one doesn't do it for you, don't bother with the sequels. On the other hand, if you like this, you'll want to read the rest of the story immediately.

 

1907-1912: The Boats of the Glen Carrig, The Ghost Pirates, The Night Land and The House on the Borderland - all by William Hope Hodgson. Included in this group of four you have H.P. Lovecraft's favorite novel (House) and Caitlin R. Kiernan and John Pelan's favorite novel (The Night Land) and there's a bunch of folk who would call The Ghost Pirates the best supernatural horror novel ever written. The Boats of the Glen Carrig is sort of the Jun Akiyama of the group, and that's not really a bad thing. The phrase "cosmic terror" begins (and some would say ends) with The Night Land. The highly stylized language might grate on modern readers a bit, in which case James Stoddard (he of The High House and The False House fame) has done a masterful retelling of the tale in more modern prose. There are also a lot of people who would side with Lovecraft and proclaim The House on the Borderland to be the better book. It's much, much shorter and more accessible, so if you haven't read Hodgson at all, that might be the place to start. He was also a hell of a short story writer.

 

Okay, we had this nasty thing called WWI interrupt everything for a few years... When we return, it's the Roaring Twenties!

 

1925 - Invaders from the Dark - Greya La Spina (Until the publication of Tessier's The Night Walker some fifty years later this was the gold standard of lycanthropy novels.

 

1926 - Fettered - Greya La Spina (Sadly, this appeared as a serial in Weird Tales and has never been reprinted. I'm fixing to do something about that in the very near future.)

 

1925-1928 The Werewolf of Ponkert, The Return of the Master, The Werewolf's Daughter (All three ran in Weird Tales, later all three were published in book form by Donald M. Grant). Only the first novel has been published in paperback. An excellent period piece, but didn't get to shine very long with La Spina's novel appearing the same year.

 

1927 - The Devil of Pei-Ling - Herbert Asbury (Yep, it's the Gangs of New York guy. Before he started writing more-or-less true crime stuff, Asbury wrote this amazing novel of Asian menace with huge rats and toads, bloody ropes dripping from the ceiling, etc. etc. Recently reprinted and an absolute blast.

 

1927 - The Dark Chamber - Leonard Cline (Pretty much Altered States sixty years earlier and better written.)

 

1929 - The Fire Spirits - Paul Busson (A period piece that seamlessly mixes fact and fiction to the point where you're left wondering whether this was fiction or not. Absolutely chilling for that reason.)

 

Sort of a summary, marketing categories were much broader then, all of these and many more disparate books were simply called "thrillers". A "thriller" could be a non-supernatural horror yarn, a police procedural, a supernatural or science fictional tale or any combination thereof. "Horror" was a reaction to something, not a marketing buzzword. We do see some real diversity, from the traditional (La Spina, Munn, Stoker) to the wildly experimental (Cline, Hodgson, Ewers). All in all this is just a hint of what's to come when the floodgates open in the 1930s. As I'm on a deadline, as much fun as this is, I'm going to have to rein it in until I'm done with the task at hand, probably have to pick this up tomorrow...

 

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