Edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
Published by Carroll & Graf
There are few phrases that can send a college student running for cover in terror like the phrase “Literary Criticism.” Thoughts of hours spent trying to decipher the hidden meanings of moldy old tomes and stodgy professors touting the worth of “literature” is enough to make many reconsider the necessitywhether of college. The problem with most classes of the like comes from the subject matter; volumes of tired language and stories that most could not care less about give literary criticism a bad reputation. Where are the books that stir the blood, wreak emotional havoc? The books that horror fans will enjoy? Look no further. Horror: Another 100 Best Books is not your average literary criticism textbook.
At first glance, the title may seem a little misleading. There are not, in fact, 100 complete horror novels between the covers of this book. That would be impossible. However, what is contained in this weighty volume are original essays by a who’s-who of horror about the masters of the craft. For anyone who’s ever wondered where to begin in the vast history of horror literature, this book (and its predecessor, the award-winning Horror: 100 Best Books) is a perfect start.
In his introduction to the volume, horror icon Peter Straub discusses the history of the horror genre, its current state, and what might possibly come in the future. He talks about the forerunners of modern-day horror, looking with hope toward the writers of tomorrow. Without preaching, he indicates a genuine love for the genre as something more than just blood and guts, but as a form of literature deserving respect.
As stated, this book contains 100 essays by modern authors discussing what they feel are the best of classic horror literature. While not all the authors are household names, among them are horror icons Doug Bradley, David J. Skal, Robert Weinberg, Ed Gorman, Ellen Datlow, Poppy Z. Brite and Tim Lebbon, all discussing the finer nuances of the writers who inspired them. Each with their own inimitable style, the stories are dissected until those pieces that make them great are exposed for the reader to examine. While the reader may not always agree, one cannot argue the passion each of the essayists have for the genre, nor the respect for the masters of old.
Among the best essays (not coincidentally about some of the best stories) are Elizabeth Hand’s take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, David J. Skal’s insight on Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Ed Gorman’s discussion about Matheson’s A Stir of Echoes. Also noteworthy are Peter Crowther’s essay about Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Nancy Holder’s take on Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and Thomas Ligotti on the Sondheim hit Sweeney Todd. Lest anyone think this is nothing but “old” horror, the dates of the discussed pieces range from 1834 (Aleksandr Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades) to more modern fare such as 1999’s From Hell (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell) and 2000’s House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski).
Literary theory and criticism is not a subject for just anyone. If your purpose in reading a book is simply to be entertained, and there is nothing wrong with that, this book may not be for you. In fact, unless you enjoy reading pages about how influential a particular story was or what cultural significance it may have had, it most definitely is not for you. However, it is often illuminating to read about where some of the modern greats got their inspiration. It also allows readers to see how the much genre has developed over the past 175 years.
What this volume does best is pique interest. Many of the titles essayed may have been unheard of by readers, and these are titles that some consider to be must-reads in the horror genre. For every Stephen King or Clive Barker or Charles L. Grant, there are a dozen names such as Cyril Tourneur, George Gissing or Kathe Koja; names that may not ring bells, but whose work will wring spirits. By going through Horror: Another 100 Best Books, readers will discover classics that they may have missed and will discover many different levels of horror that can help to enrich the genre for them. In addition, the book proves once and for all that horror is literature, just as valuable and visceral as anything taught in a college English Lit class. The names herein have inspired generations of new authors, just as they will do for generations that come after.