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American Supernatural Tales by S. T. Joshi

American Supernatural Tales (2007)

by S. T. Joshi (Editor)

Other authors: Charles Beaumont (Contributor), Ambrose Bierce (Contributor), Robert Bloch (Contributor), Ray Bradbury (Contributor), Robert W. Chambers (Contributor)21 more, August Derleth (Contributor), Dennis Etchison (Contributor), Nathaniel Hawthrone (Contributor), Robert E. Howard (Contributor), Washington Irving (Contributor), Shirley Jackson (Contributor), Henry James (Contributor), Caitlin R. Kiernan (Contributor), Stephen King (Contributor), T. E. D. Klein (Contributor), Fritz Leiber (Contributor), Thomas Ligotti (Contributor), H. P. Lovecraft (Contributor), Richard Matheson (Contributor), Fitz-James O'Brien (Contributor), Joyce Carol Oates (Contributor), Norman Partridge (Contributor), Edgar Allan Poe (Contributor), David J. Schow (Contributor), Clark Ashton Smith (Contributor), Karl Edward Wagner (Contributor)

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S. T Joshi, an expert on fantastic and horror fiction, and an editor and biographer of H.P. Lovecraft, assembled this collection in 2007, with biographies of each of the twenty-six authors and his opinions of their stories.. It was republished in 2013 as part of a new Penguin Horror series edited by the famed Mexican auteur Guillermo Del Toro. The reprint includes not only a new series introduction by Del Toro but a fancy hardcover cover and black charcoal-ish coloring on the edges of the paper.

Joshi didn’t divide the stories by themes or schools or eras. He listed them chronologically and mentioned differences in passing. I am going to mention stories together by similarities, ignoring his ordering very slightly.

I was surprised with the gruesomeness of Washington Irving’s tale. He usually put humor into his supernatural tales and suggested in his most famous tale that the victim of the supernatural had been pranked. This time he gave the reader the options of regarding the German student as insane or damned. I was surprised that Joshi went with a rather obscure story of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He didn’t make that mistake with Poe.

So much for the golden oldies, who looked to the past and/or Europe. The next set of authors set their tales in their country and their present.
Fitz O’Brien told a tale of an invisible humanoid creature captured in mid-nineteenth century New York, a tale disturbing because the narrator, far from omniscient, could not make either head or tail of it.
Ambrose Bierce is of course most famous for a tale about a wretch trying to escape his fate in his mind. In this tale, a young wanderer meets his fate sleeping in the woods. In a dream, or rather nightmare, he is strangled to death by something that looks like his mother. In the waking world, he is found strangled, with his head on her tombstone. Awake or asleep, something is laughing, and Bierce’s description of that laugh is the main reason why I didn’t want to read this story again.
Robert Chambers set his tale among the sophisticates of 1890s New York. I was almost more interested in how the worldly but honorable young painter would deal with the sweet red-haired model than what the church watchman who reminded them of a coffin-worm was up to. The three of them end up destroyed by the movement of some vast and unfathomable supernatural machine.
I have the same complaint about the Henry James selection that I had about the Nathaniel Hawthorne selection; it isn’t a bad story, but Joshi could have done better.
And then comes the three musketeers of Weird Tales, the great horror magazine of the first half of the century. Joshi for once did pick the most representative story for a great author, for what could be more Lovecraftian that Cthulhu? I was fascinated and maybe amused to read Clark Ashton Smith’s writing a splatter sci-fi story in such a stilted and old-fashioned manner. Robert E. Howard was the creator of the sword-and-sorcery genre but Joshi picked a story that had Howard using the rural Texas milieu that he lived in.
The next three writers – Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber – were not only influenced by Lovecraft but counted him as a friend and mentor. Derleth founded Arkham House to publish Lovecraft’s work after the master’s death. Robert Bloch asked Lovecraft for permission to kill him in one of his stories and Lovecraft consented. (I’ve read the story; it is a hoot.) All of them wrote stories grounded in the Cthulhu mythos. None of them wrote like him. Bloch wrote like Dashiell Hammett and other urban crime writers, even when he wrote supernatural stories. His tale in this anthology has a bored and angry pharmacist noting that the supplies a customer is buying are not meant for medical purposes. Derleth’s contribution is a first-rate portrayal of childhood fear that is very true-to-life, if my memories of my childhood are accurate. I thought only Ray Bradbury wrote those kind of stories well. Fritz Leiber’s allegory of consumerism as vampirism is one of my favorites in this collection.
Joshi proceeds to two authors of the weird who had mainstream critical acclaim in their lifetimes. Re-reading Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn” brought back more childhood memories. I remember reading this as a young teenage boy in his “R is for Rocket” collection and loving it so much that I made my dad read it. As for Shirley Jackson, I found her stories of sensitive outcasts rejected and tormented by the greater outer world can hit nerves that I don’t want hit. Joshi’s selection of hers, “A Visit,” belongs to another type of story she wrote well, stories of supernatural menace whose causes, motions, and purposes are obscure and unexplained.
And then Joshi moved on to two authors known among other things for their work on the Twilight Zone. Richard Matheson’s tale was dramatized in that series; it was original and quite horrible (I mean, in the good sense.) Charles Beaumont’s contribution belongs to another type of Twilight Zone story, one that involves a grown man stuck in a twentieth century rut trying to break out of it by acting childish. Not my type of story, even though I am no model of maturity.
We come then to stories by authors who published after the sixties and Weird Tales and the Twilight Zone. T.E.D. Klein and Stephen King both expanded the stories published here into big fat novels. I read the one that Klein wrote and liked it. I haven’t King’s The Stand but I suspect that the atmospheric and restrained short story “Night Surf” is better.
I once quit reading a Dennis Etchison anthology because he excelled so well at setting horrors in everyday urban life that I feared that further reading would trigger another mini-breakdown like the one I had in that summer in Emporia. This story, where two men make the mistake of looking too closely at the guy manning the register in an all-night car stop is a fine example.
I believe that Thomas Ligotti is probably the only dark fantasy writer of the last quarter of the twentieth century whose work should wind up in the Library of America. Joshi, for god knows what reason, placed his tale of a man caught in a nightmare next to a story by Karl Edward Wagner about a man caught in a nightmare. Wagner’s tale compares well, but how could I prefer it to Ligotti’s? He after all began his story in an evil used book store whose evil bookseller gives an evil book to a customer.
The last four stories deal with monsters. Norman Partridge’s story is a plain unpretentious story about a monster in the great snowbound forests who has his own uses for humans. David J. Schow’s story brings those old friends, the three big Universal Studios monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, together for one last visit. This could have been a post-modern parody but Schow treats them fairly straight. Joyce Carol Oates’s monster is a human one, although one cannot be sure if he was indeed evil from birth or made evil by Carrie-style by a fanatical mother. Caitlin Kiernan has many varied interests but her tale of a disgusting and dangerous creature uncovered under Alabama’s Red Mountain is grounded in her background in Appalachian paleontology. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Nov 23, 2014 |
Excellent collection of American supernatural short stories by a distinguished array of authors. One of the best features of this collection lies in the excellent overview of the genre that serves as an introduction to the collection and the brief biographies of the authors that preface each story. ( )
  turtlesleap | Dec 12, 2013 |
Great anthology of lesser known, but still good tales of horror and the supernatural. I enjoyed this one a lot! ( )
  pmcnamee67 | Oct 25, 2012 |
Editor S.T. Joshi has compiled a fine introduction to American (let’s be daring and use the “h” word) horror literature. He provides a biographical introduction for each of the 26 well-selected stories and an informative overview of the subject with his opening essay. Joshi also offers solid suggestions for further reading while pointing out the significant lack of any sound historical discussion of supernatural fiction since Les Edwards’s Living in Fear (published in 1975 — and, it is safe to say, a great deal has happened since then). He further justifiably asserts that although horror has been well-charted bibliographically, it lacks analysis and criticism. [Considering academia's current concentration on and subsequent publication concerning horror film rather than literature, there may be little hope of this changing, but college (or precocious high schooler) coursework based on this volume would certainly provide a good basic grounding for future critics.]

Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Fritz Leiber, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and King are all put into viable literary context. Both the casual reader and (the often behind-the-times) horror maven are brought up to the dawn of the current century with the inclusion of Dennis Etchison’s modern classic “The Night Shift”, Thomas Ligotti’s “Vasterian”, Karl Edward Wagner’s “The Endless Night,” Norman Partridge’s “The Hollow Man,” Joyce Carol Oates’s “Demon,” David J. Schow’s “Last Call for the Sons of Shock,” and Caitlin Kiernan’s “In the Waterworks (Birmingham, Alabama 1888).” T.E.D. Klein’s 1972 novella “The Events at Poroth Farm” is an interesting, if possibly debatable, choice. Further, the small press and the Internet are seen as the “predominant” venues today for horror as a whole. This may be true of the short form, but supernatural novels are not so confined.And therein lies part of the worth of this tome: it serves as a valuable starting point for thoughtful evaluation and discussion of American (and other) horror literature. American Supernatural Tales provides both fiction and framework that offer plenty to chew on and minor points to quibble over. Anyone with a true interest in the subject must consider this widely available and inexpensive edition required. ( )
  fantasymag | May 5, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joshi, S. T.Editorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beaumont, CharlesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bierce, AmbroseContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bloch, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, RayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chambers, Robert W.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Derleth, AugustContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Etchison, DennisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hawthrone, NathanielContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Howard, Robert E.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Irving, WashingtonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jackson, ShirleyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
James, HenryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kiernan, Caitlin R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
King, StephenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klein, T. E. D.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Leiber, FritzContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ligotti, ThomasContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lovecraft, H. P.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Matheson, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, Fitz-JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Oates, Joyce CarolContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Partridge, NormanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Poe, Edgar AllanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schow, David J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, Clark AshtonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wagner, Karl EdwardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143105043, Paperback)

The ultimate collection of weird and frightening American fiction

As Stephen King will attest , the popularity of the occult in American literature has only grown since the days of Edgar Allan Poe. American Supernatural Tales celebrates the richness of this tradition with chilling contributions from some of the nation's brightest literary lights, including Poe himself, H. P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and-of course- Stephen King. By turns phantasmagoric, spectral, and demonic, this is a frighteningly good addition to Penguin Classics.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:54 -0400)

From Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King, American authors have excelled at journeying into the supernatural. An unprecedented anthology of tales, celebrating our enduring need to be spooked and horrified.

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