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Old 12-16-2007   #1
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American Supernatural Tales

I recently picked up a new book at the library (published in 2007) titled American Supernatural Tales. It is part of the Penguin Classics series and is edited by S.T. Joshi. He also writes an introduction to this volume and a mini bio of all the authors. These short biographies are about a page and a half in length and preface each story. The back cover boasts "The ultimate collection of weird and frightening fiction by American writers". This is a fine collection. Here are the stories:

The Adventure of the German Student by Washington Irving
Edward Randolph's Portrait by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
What Was It? by Fitz-James O'Brien
The Death of Halpin Frayser by Ambrose Bierce
The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers
The Real Right Thing by Henry James
The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis by Clark Ashton Smith
Old Garfield's Heart by Robert E. Howard
Black Bargain by Robert Bloch
The Lonesome Place by August Derleth
The Girl with the Hungry Eyes by Fritz Leiber
The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury
A Visit by Shirley Jackson
Long Distant Call by Richard Matheson
The Vanishing American by Charles Beaumont
The Events of Poroth Farm by T.E.D. Klein
Night Surf by Stephen King
The Late Shift by Dennis Etchison
Vastarien by Thomas Ligotti
Endless Night by Karl Edward Wagner
The Hollow Man by Norman Partridge
Last Call for the Sons of Shock by David J. Schow
Demon by Joyce Carol Oates
In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888) by Caitlin R. Kiernan


TL gets a small paragraph of his own in the introduction. Joshi is commenting on writers who have worked their way up through the small press and goes on to say:

"In this regard, the most remarkable phenomenon in contemporary horror is Thomas Ligotti, whose eccentric output of short stories (he has admitted that he will not and cannot write a horror novel) has somehow managed to secure a following almost entirely through word-of-mouth. Uncompromising in his uniquely twisted vision of a universe of grotesque nightmare, Ligotti is content to offer his meticulously crafted tales to a relatively small audience capable of appreciating it; like Lovecraft, he scorns the notion of writing to a market."

An interesting comment that he makes in the biography section:

"Ligotti, although influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and other writers of the American supernatural tradition, has developed a highly original and distinctive approach to the field, fusing psychological and supernatural tropes to create a nightmarish world of terror in which almost anything can occur. His subject matter is bolstered by an idiosyncratic and occasionally difficult and obscure style that seeks to destroy the distinction between the real and the imaginary."

It is nice to see TL in Penguin Classics. A few other authors that Joshi speculates could "..survive the relentless winnowing of posterity" are Caitlin R. Kiernan and Norman Partridge. I am unfamiliar with the work of these two authors. I will have to remedy that.
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Old 12-20-2007   #2
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Re: American Supernatural Tales

The folks at Penguin enjoy their speculative metaphysics. They publish a number of authors with ties to Masonic or occult trends, such as Jan Potoki, Bruno Schulz, Gerard de Nerval...Their "classics" series is a great way to catch up on the development of Gnosticism in literature from the Greeks to the present day.

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Old 12-20-2007   #3
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Re: American Supernatural Tales

It's good to see August Derleth's name among the other notable American horror authors. I think horror fans and editors write off Derleth as just another Lovecraft imitator. While Lovecraft certainly was influential to Derleth, I believe he eventually discovered his own unique voice. In my estimation his style is an odd mixture of the aforementioned Lovecraft mixed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry David Thoreau. His tales shouldn't be overlooked. Cheers to Penguin Classics!

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Old 02-10-2008   #4
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Re: American Supernatural Tales

This is a wonderful anthology, not just for the fiction included but for Joshi's insightful editorial comments. I'd like to mention--only because no one has yet--Jackson's tale, which is one of my favorite short stories.

Quote
It is nice to see TL in Penguin Classics. A few other authors that Joshi speculates could "..survive the relentless winnowing of posterity" are Caitlin R. Kiernan and Norman Partridge. I am unfamiliar with the work of these two authors. I will have to remedy that.
I haven't read much Partridge, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Kiernan. Every single work of hers I've loved, but for those new to her work, To Charles Fort, with Love is a solid collection of short fiction. Many say that her first collection Tales of Pain and Wonder is superior, but I've yet to read that. Thankfully, Subterranean is reissuing it.

I must also say that Kiernan's background in paleontology lends a scientific feel to her work, while at the same time her treatment of the supernatural borders on the mythic. I've always considered this combination a key to her success as an author capable of working in an original way the cosmic horror that Lovecraft specialized in.

The Dry Salvages is a short science fiction novel--partly set in a spaceship in a tale of First Contact--that I would consider truly Lovecraftian. I've always enjoyed the more SF side of HPL, and The Dry Salvages certainly fits the bill.

"When the emptiness in you grows too large
You fill its vaulted chambers with the ash of memory
With the dust of desire."
- PZB
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