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Old 04-14-2013   #1
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Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

This is a slightly cleaned-up version of a review of Walter de la Mare’s Strangers and Pilgrims that I posted at Amazon. (My Amazon reviews are always “quick and dirty”, they’re all about Information, not literary polish). After purchasing the book, a pricey volume, I just found myself really annoyed that one of de la Mare’s best tales, “The Tree” was MIA. Now, in my opinion, that’s an indefensible omission…utterly. Why would a first rate horror story be a casualty for replacement by, say, a non-horror 'literary' delving in Obscurantism? I may be wrong about the reasons why so many of de la Mare’s books seem to shy away from fully advertising the author’s allegiance to the Weird, so feel free to tear into any of my assumptions. Only Indifference is an Insult, never honest passion in discussing something you really value! The following is the ‘revised’ review. It’s still quick and dirty, as far as I’m concerned, but I’m more interested in hearing the ‘logic’ behind this …ah…oversight.



Walter de la Mare wrote one of the finest ghost story I've ever read, the chilling and atmospheric "Out of the Deep". This story (I feel) is what "The Turn of the Screw" should be but isn't…not quite. We also have that little masterpiece "A:B:O.", a grim, ghastly and darkly humorous ghost story that rivals the very best stories of that other James (M. R.). This hefty volume contains some of the finest supernatural tales of terror ever penned but it also contains large amounts of weaker work and that puzzles me because many of de la Mare's best stories, "A Mote", "Missing", "The Wharf" and the wonderful "The Tree" (a story that's always reminded me of Lovecraft's "The Colour out of Space") are inexplicably not included.
WHY?
I'll give it 5 stars anyway just on the strength of a dozen or so stories. But, hey, while I'm at it, let me air a pet peeve: When will serious critics FINALLY realize "Seaton's Aunt" is a fine but nonetheless overrated horror story when compared to tales like "Mr. Kempe" and "All Hallows"? That story has appeared in so many anthologies that might have used the space better by introducing readers to less overly familiar material and reprinting some lesser known tales equally good or even superior.

Personally, I would have preferred a far slimmer volume that contained all of de la Mare's best tales of ghosts and subtle Horrors. I just don't care for the lighter whimsical fantasy stuff at all.

It's apparent from these selections that those who `guard' de la Mare's literary legacy don't want him remembered primarily for his supernatural tales. That's a pity and a real mistake: in general only lovers of spectral tales read de la Mare these days. Literary snobbishness will only insure his reputation to dwindle even more in the future.
BTW, I hate an off-white DW. If you read the book (like I do) it gets dirty in no time at all. If you remove it, there's a chance it may get misplaced or damaged. Having said that, let me add the book is quite attractive looking albeit a real bug squasher.
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Old 04-14-2013   #2
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Well, Druidic, firstly it's good to find a reader who is vehement about de la Mare's fiction. He does too often get overlooked in our field. Secondly, I wrote the introduction to this volume and helped the publisher with the selection. I guess what you're saying is that you would have made a different selection. I don't find 'The Tree' as persuasive as you, and I don't value 'All Hallows' anywhere near as much as 'Seaton's Aunt'. The latter bears repeated rereading and many interpretations: the church on the cliff story, though atmospheric, rather less so; in fact, I find it one of the author's more conventional pieces. Have you ever thought, for example, that it was Seaton who was the source of the supernatural in the story, not his hapless old Aunt? Thus I suggested once in an essay, and the evidence for this is all there in the story. Yet still only one possible view.

The selection we made tried to balance classics with less familiar work, and err on the side of those that were more evidently supernatural. As for whimsy, I don't really think de la Mare ever indulged in it in his adult tales: think of 'The Riddle', which is all about nursery children and a toy box (of sorts). But whimsical? No, just very strange and fearful, and a Riddle never yet solved, despite some brave attempts.

But anyway, if you're cross with me, you should be just as vexed with the author himself. In 1942 there appeared a Best Stories of Walter de la Mare, which I believe he helped select. He did include Seaton's Aunt and All Hallows: but he didn't include The Tree. The rest of the selection - The Almond Tree, Miss Duveen, An Ideal Craftsman, Crewe, Missing, Miss Miller, Orgy, The Nap, Physic, The Picnic, The Trumpet, The House, 'What Dreams May Come', The Vats.

Hmm, there are several there that I would omit to make way for 'The Creatures' and 'The Riddle', among others....MV
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Old 04-14-2013   #3
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Sand, I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my yowl of anguish. “The Tree” has always been a favorite of mine among all de la Mare’s works. The subjective element always looms large but since Lovecraft too singled it out for praise (along with “Seaton’s Aunt”, of course!) I think I can argue for its importance in the writer’s body of work.
Honestly, you did succeed in presenting a balanced view of de la Mare’s work, and I suppose that’s where I was a little disappointed. For example, like the work of Lovecraft, Blackwood, or Machen, I’m not sure every aspect of Walter de la Mare’s work deserves unconditional praise. But you succeeded in your goal, and I realize the immensity of that task. From my own subjective perspective, I believe I pointed out I would have preferred a little less well-balanced overview and more of a concentration on the stories that lean toward terror, supernatural or otherwise. I can see now there was no element of literary snobbishness at play and I apologize, it was just a different game plan.
Personally, I always felt de la Mare’s reputation would have benefited if there were volumes edited solely with spectral intent—like M. R. James collections of ghost stories. I believe his work might have reached a somewhat wider audience; ah, but then again he was a very different writer from James. I know of only one collection (there may be others) that includes “ghost stories” in the title of a de la Mare book.
Your observation about “Seaton’s Aunt” is an interesting one; and it’s not that I don’t value the story; it just doesn’t work as well for me as it does for some readers.
Again, thanks for replying. And thanks for helping to make this beast of a book possible. (I’ve already hunted down the other stories I mentioned in an old ex-library volume edited by Edward Wagenknecht.)
I’m now glad I gave Strangers and Pilgrims at least 5 stars
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Old 04-14-2013   #4
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Actually, for any Walter de la Mare fans out there, the two volumes, Strangers and Pilgrims and Edward Wagenknecht’s Collected Tales, complement each other perfectly. Yes, there is some overlap, how could there not be? But if you love quality supernatural (and some psychological) tales of terror, these two books are a must.
And, yes, Sand, I'm going to reread "Seaton's Aunt" with your theory in mind.
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Old 04-15-2013   #5
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Thanks, Druidic, it's good to find a reader with so much zeal for de la Mare's work. I'll reread 'The Tree' with your enthusiasm in mind. I do see what you mean about a collection devoted to just the supernatural tales: but there might be difficulty defining which these are, because de la Mare has so many borderlands. I know we debated exactly this as we considered some of the stories. Even the main studies of his work (such as Megroz, Forrest Reid, Atkins, McCrosson) differ in their interpretations - but that's part of what makes reading de la Mare so rewarding, of course. Anyway, thanks for engaging with the book.
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Old 04-15-2013   #6
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Personally I missed Three Friends, which wouldn't really have taken up all that much space, but P&S is still a great collection.

- chris
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Old 04-15-2013   #7
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Quote Originally Posted by Druidic View Post
Actually, for any Walter de la Mare fans out there, the two volumes, Strangers and Pilgrims and Edward Wagenknecht’s Collected Tales, complement each other perfectly. Yes, there is some overlap, how could there not be? But if you love quality supernatural (and some psychological) tales of terror, these two books are a must.
And, yes, Sand, I'm going to reread "Seaton's Aunt" with your theory in mind.
There is also a two book set, Short Stories 1895 1926 & Short Stories 1927-1956. I own these, and think they are excellent. Actually there is a third volume, but believe it's childrens stories so I didn't get it.

I think these books contains all of de la Mare's short stories? If anyone has any info on any of his other weird/supernatural work that I'm missing I'd be very grateful.

I also own The Return, which I only dimly remember, but recall it being quite proto Lovecraftian, and more definately horror based.

I will re-read The Tree, as I don't remember it by name. There is also one story that sticks in my mind, which I have been meaning to re-read for a while, and again can't remember by name. It's about a man who gets lost on a walking tour, and takes a detour to investigate an old building..
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Old 04-15-2013   #8
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I will re-read The Tree, as I don't remember it by name. There is also one story that sticks in my mind, which I have been meaning to re-read for a while, and again can't remember by name. It's about a man who gets lost on a walking tour, and takes a detour to investigate an old building..Draugen.

Draugen, it may be "All Hallows" you recall. There a traveler comes upon a rather sinister church by the ocean.

BTW, I, too, missed "The Three Friends". But after some serious thought (and climbing back from the edge), I find I don't envy Sand...having to decide what works got included and what works didn't. The book is certainly more than generous in size!
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Old 04-15-2013   #9
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I had to get precisely these three de la Mare volumes to get all the stories I wanted: Strangers and Pilgrims, Collected Tales and Arkham House’s Eight Tales.
Some stories just don’t make themselves easily available.

A:B:O, Out of the Deep, Mr. Kempe, All Hallows, A Mote and, of course, The Tree are my favorite de la Mare stories.
Right now I'm rereading "Seaton's Aunt" with renewed interest.

Last edited by Druidic; 04-15-2013 at 02:57 PM..
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Old 04-17-2013   #10
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Do you have high regard for the following stories from Eight Tales? Or are they mostly for completists, . . . of curiosity to study de la Mare's early development?

"Kismet"
"The Hangman Luck'
"A Mote"
"The Village of Old Age'
"De Mortuis"

From Eight Tales I have already read "A:B:O", "The Moon's Miracle", and "The Giant", in the beautiful Strangers and Pilgrims collection. (I really love everything about Strangers and Pilgrims. The quality design, and the grey color, complemented by the off-white yellow dust jacket, with de la Mare's refined Ex Libris on the front. The absurdly generous, heavy thickness of the book, makes me silly happy! The frontispiece and foreword. It's a unique aesthetic sensation, and richly satisfying to hold.)

"A:B:O" is incredible and unprecendented in the narrator's feverish voice. "The Moon's Miracle" is also quite beautiful. "The Giant" is well written, and fairly interesting, with a good psychological or spiritual message, I guess. These early stories may perhaps not be so mature as his later work, but they have a clean innocent energy. Are these three pretty much the best of the crop in Eight Tales?
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