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American supernatural tales, page 1


American supernatural tales

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American supernatural tales

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page










  THE CALL OF CTHULHU - (Found Among the Papers of the Late Francis Wayland ...






















  S. T. JOSHI is a widely published writer and editor. He has edited three Penguin Classics editions of H. P. Lovecraft’s horror tales as well as Algernon Blackwood’s Ancient Sorceries and Other Strange Stories (2002), Lord Dunsany’s In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales (2004), and two volumes of ghost stories by M. R. James (2005, 2006). Among his critical and biographical works are The Weird Tale (1990), H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (1996), and The Modern Weird Tale (2001). He is the coeditor of Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia (2005) and the editor of Icons of Horror and the Supernatural (2006). He has edited works by Ambrose Bierce, H. L. Mencken, and other writers. He lives with his wife in upstate New York.


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

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  80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published in Penguin Books 2007

  Introduction and selection copyright © S. T. Joshi, 2007

  All rights reserved

  Pages v-vi constitute an extension to this copyright page


  These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of

  the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblence to actual persons, living or dead,

  business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  American supernatural tales / edited with an introduction by S. T. Joshi.

  p. cm.—(Penguin classics)

  eISBN : 978-1-440-64940-0

  1. Occult fiction, American. 2. Fantasy fiction, American.

  3. American fiction—20th century. 4. American fiction—21st century. I. Joshi, S. T., 1958-

  PS648.O33A44 2007

  813’.08766—dc22 2006052882

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means

  without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only

  authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy

  of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.


  The author and publisher are grateful for the following parties for permission to reprint the following copyrighted works:

  H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu,” copyright © 1928 by Popular Fiction Publishing Company. Reprinted by permission of Lovecraft Properties LLC.

  Clark Ashton Smith, “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis,” copyright © 1932 by Popular Fiction Publishing Company. Reprinted by permission of CASiana Literary Enterprises, Inc. and Arkham House Publishers, Inc. and their agents, JABberwocky Literary Agency, P.O. Box 4558, Sunnyside, NY 11104-0558.

  Robert E. Howard, “Old Garfield’s Heart,” copyright © 1933 by Popular Fiction Publishing Company. Reprinted from The Black Stranger and Other American tales by Robert E. Howard, edited and with an introduction by Steven Tompkins, by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright © 2005 by Robert E. Howard Properties, LLC.

  Robert Bloch, “Black Bargain,” copyright © 1942 by Popular Fiction Publishing Company. Reprinted by permission of Eleanor Block c/o Ralph M. Vicinanza, Ltd.

  August Derleth, “The Lonesome Place,” copyright © 1948. Reprinted by permission of Arkham House Publishers, Inc. and Arkham House’s agents, JABberwocky Literary Agency, P.O. Box 4558, Sunnyside, NY 11104-0558.

  Fritz Leiber, “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes,” copyright © 1949 by Avon Books, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Richard Curtis Associates.

  Ray Bradbury, “The Fog Horn,” copyright © 1951 by The Curtis Publishing Company, renewed 1979 by Ray Bradbury. Reprinted by permission of Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

  Shirley Jackson, “A Visit,” (also titled “The Lovely House”), copyright 1952 by Shirley Jackson, from Come Along with Me by Shirley Jackson. Reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  Richard Matheson, “Long Distance Call,” copyright © 1953 by Galaxy Publishing Corporation, renewed 1981 by Richard Matheson. Reprinted by permission of Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

  Charles Beaumont, “The Vanishing American,” copyright © 1955 by Fantasy House, renewed 1983 by Christopher Beaumont. Reprinted by permission of Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

  T. E. D. Klein, “The Events at Poroth Farm,” copyright © 1972 by T. E. D. Klein. Reprinted by permission of Pimlico Agency, Inc.

  Stephen King, “Night Surf,” from Night Shift by Stephen King. Copyright © 1976, 1977, 1978 by Stephen King. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

  Dennis Etchison, “The Late Shift,” copyright © 1980 by Dennis Etchison. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  Thomas Ligotti, “Vastarien,” copyright © 1987 by Thomas Ligotti. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  Karl Edward Wagner, “Endless Night,” copyright © 1987 by Karl Edward Wagner. Reprinted by permission of Pimlico Agency, Inc.

  Norman Partridge, “The Hollow Man,” copyright © 1991 by Norman Partridge. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  David J. Schow, “Last Call for the Sons of Shock,” copyright © 1994 by David J. Schow. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  Joyce Carol Oates, “Demon,” copyright © 1996 by Joyce Carol Oates. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  Caitlin R. Kiernan,
“In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888),” copyright © 2000 by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Reprinted by permission of the author.


  The supernatural in literature can be said to have its roots in the earliest specimens of Western literature, if we take cognizance of such monsters as the Cyclops, the Hydra, Circe, Cerberus, and others in Greek myth. There is, however, a question as to whether, prior to a few centuries ago, such entities would have been regarded as properly supernatural; for a given creature or event to be regarded as supernatural, one must have a clearly defined conception of the natural, from which the supernatural can be regarded as an aberration or departure. In Western culture, the parameters of the natural have been increasingly delimited by science, and it is therefore not surprising that the supernatural, as a distinct literary genre, first emerged in the eighteenth century, when scientific advance had reached a stage where certain phenomena could be recognized as manifestly beyond the bounds of the natural. H. P. Lovecraft, one of the leading theoreticians of the genre as well as one of its pioneering practitioners, emphasized this point somewhat flamboyantly in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927):

  The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

  What this means is that the supernatural tale, while adhering to the strictest canons of mimetic realism, must have its emotional and aesthetic focus upon the chosen avenue of departure from the natural—whether it be a creature such as the vampire, the ghost, or the werewolf, or a series of events such as might occur in a haunted house. If all the events of a tale are set in an imaginary realm, then we have crossed over into fantasy, because the contrast between the natural and the supernatural does not come into play. Conversely, the supernatural tale must be clearly distinguished from the tale of psychological horror, where the horror is generated by witnessing the aberrations of a diseased mind. Lovecraft, in discussing William Faulkner’s tale of necrophilia, “A Rose for Emily” (1930), made clear this distinction, also pointing out the degree to which the supernatural tale is tied to developments in the sciences:

  Manifestly, this is a dark and horrible thing which could happen, whereas the crux of a weird tale is something which could not possibly happen. If any unexpected advance of physics, chemistry, or biology were to indicate the possibility of any phenomena related by the weird tale, that particular set of phenomena would cease to be weird in the ultimate sense because it would become surrounded by a different set of emotions. It would no longer represent imaginative liberation, because it would no longer indicate a suspension or violation of the natural laws against whose universal dominance our fancies rebel. (Letter to August Derleth, November 20, 1931)

  Given the fact that the commencement of supernatural literature in the West is canonically dated to the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), there is no intrinsic reason why Americans need feel any inferiority to Europe in regard to their contributions to the form; for it was just at this time that American literature was itself beginning to declare its own aesthetic independence from that of Great Britain. And yet, less than half a century after the United States became a distinct geopolitical entity, British critic William

  Hazlitt threw down the following gauntlet: “No ghost, we will venture to say, was ever seen in North America. They do not walk in broad day; and the night of ignorance and superstition which favours their appearance, was long past before the United States lifted up their head beyond the Atlantic wave” (Edinburgh Review, October 1829). Hazlitt may have been seeking merely to emphasize the new nation’s continued cultural inferiority to the land that gave it birth, and he may also have been guilty of exaggerating the rationality that governed the founding of the American colonies, but in spite of all caveats he does appear to raise a valid point. Since so much of supernatural fiction appears to find the source of its terrors in the depths of the remote past, how can a nation that does not have much of a past express the supernatural in literature? The Gothic novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were predicated on horrors emerging from the “ignorance and superstition” of the British or European Dark Ages, but if a country did not experience the Dark Ages, how could those horrors be depicted plausibly? The authors represented in this volume, covering nearly the entirety of American history, sought to answer these questions in a multiplicity of ways, and their varying solutions shed considerable light on the development of the supernatural tale as an art form.

  Although there is considerable evidence that the British Gothic novel was voraciously read in the United States, few Americans attempted their hand at it: the sole exponent of the form was Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), who chose to follow the model of Ann Radcliffe in making use of what has been termed the “explained supernatural,” where the supernatural is suggested at the outset but ultimately explained away as the product of misconstrual or trickery. As a result, Brockden Brown does not qualify as America’s first supernaturalist, and that distinction remains with the unlikely figure of Washington Irving: unlikely because his writing as a whole—lighthearted, urbane, comic, even at times self-parodic—would seem as far removed from the flamboyant luridness of Matthew Gregory Lewis or the guilt-ridden intensity of Charles Robert Maturin as anything could possibly be. And yet, the supernatural comprised a persistent thread in Irving’s work, notably in his two story collections, The Sketch Book (1820) and Tales of a Traveller (1824). That Irving was able to find inspiration in the Dutch legendry of New York and New England—a legendry already two centuries old by the time he began writing—suggests that even a “new” land (new, of course, only in terms of European settlement) could quickly gain a fund of superstition that had the potential of generating supernatural literature.

  In the next generation, two towering figures—Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne—chose starkly different means to convey the supernatural. Hawthorne, plagued by an overriding sense of sin inspired by the religious fanaticism of the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, found in the American seventeenth century—culminating in the real-life horror of the Salem witchcraft trials—a fitting analogue of the European Dark Ages, and his novels and tales, supernatural and otherwise, constantly draw upon the Puritan past as a source of evil that continues to cast its shadow over the present.

  Poe, younger and more forward-looking, felt the need to found his horrors on the potentially hideous aberrations of the human mind, with the result that much of his best fiction falls into the category of psychological horror (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Man of the Crowd”). As he noted somewhat aggressively in the preface to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), in defending himself from accusations that many of his horrors were borrowed from European examples, “I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul.” And yet, Poe rarely strayed from the supernatural; indeed, many of his most distinctive tales chart the progressive breakdown of the ratiocinative intellect when faced with the “suspension of natural laws.” Poe also recognized that compression was a key element in producing the frisson of supernatural terror: in accordance with his strictures on the “unity of effect,” he understood that an emotion so fleeting as that of fear could best be generated in short compass, and for a century or more his example compelled the great majority of literary supernaturalists to adhere to the short story as the preferred vehicle for the supernatural. Indeed, it could be said that “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a kind of rebuke to those countless British Gothicists who had dissipated the vital core of their supernatural conceptions by exte
nding it over novel length: here, instead, was a “Gothic castle” every bit as terrifying as that of Otranto or Udolpho, but concentrated in a fraction of the space. Poe achieved this condensation by a particularly dense, frenetic prose style that could easily be mocked (and would in fact be mocked by such a fastidious writer as Henry James), but whose emotive power is difficult to gainsay.

  Poe, then, is the central figure in the entire history of American—and, indeed, British and European—supernatural fiction; for his example, once established, raised the bar for all subsequent work. No longer could such entities as the vampire or the ghost—already becoming stale through overuse and, more signifiantly, through the advance of a science that was rendering them so implausible as to become aesthetically unusable—be manifested without proper emotional preparation or the provision of at least a quasilogical rationale; no longer could fear be displayed without an awareness of its psychological effect upon those who encounter it. And yet, over the next half-century or more after Poe’s death, we can find no writer who focused singlemindedly upon either supernatural or psychological horror as Poe had done; indeed, excursions into the supernatural emerged almost at random from writers recognized for their work in the literary mainstream. This may indeed suggest that the supernatural was not, properly speaking, a genre clearly dissociated from general literature, but a mode into which writers of all stripes could descend when the logic of their conceptions required it.

  And so we have the examples of F. Marion Crawford, popular historical novelist, writing the occasional short story, and even one or two novels, of the supernatural; it may or may not be significant that these short stories were collected only posthumously in the volume Wandering Ghosts (1911). Another popular writer, Robert W. Chambers, began his career writing a scintillating collection of the supernatural, The King in Yellow (1895), but lamentably failed to follow up this promising start, instead descending to the writing of shopgirl romances that filled his coffers but spelled his aesthetic ruination. Edward Lucas White, also better known for his historical novels, persistently recurred to the supernatural in his short stories, notably in two substantial collections, The Song of the Sirens (1919) and Lukundoo (1927).

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