Archive for November 11th, 2016

Supernatural Horror in Literature: IX – The Weird Tradition in the British Isles (2/2)

The weird short story has fared well of late, an important contributor being the versatile E.F. Benson, whose “The Man Who Went Too Far” breathes whisperingly of a house at the edge of a dark wood, and of Pan’s hoof-mark on the breast of a dead man. Mr. Benson’s volume, Visible and Invisible, contains several stories of singular power; notably “Negotium Perambulans”, whose unfolding reveals an abnormal monster from an ancient ecclesiastical panel which performs an act of miraculous vengeance in a lonely village on the Cornish coast, and “The Horror-Horn”, through which lopes a terrible half-human survival dwelling on unvisited Alpine peaks. “The Face”, in another collection, is lethally potent in its relentless aura of doom. H. R. Wakefield, in his collections They Return at Evening and Others Who Return, manages now and then to achieve great heights of horror despite a vitiating air of sophistication. The most notable stories are “The Red Lodge” with its slimy aqueous evil, “‘He Cometh and He Passeth By’”, “‘And He Shall Sing . . .’”, “The Cairn”, “‘Look Up There!’”, “Blind Man’s Buff”, and that bit of lurking millennial horror, “The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster”. Mention has been made of the weird work of H.G. Wells and A. Conan Doyle. The former, in “The Ghost of Fear”, reaches a very high level; while all the items in Thirty Strange Stories have strong fantastic implications. Doyle now and then struck a powerfully spectral note, as in “The Captain of the ‘Pole-Star’ ”, a tale of arctic ghostliness, and “Lot No. 249”, wherein the reanimated mummy theme is used with more than ordinary skill. Hugh Walpole, of the same family as the founder of Gothic fiction, has sometimes approached the bizarre with much success; his short story “Mrs. Lunt” carrying a very poignant shudder. John Metcalfe, in the collection published as The Smoking Leg, attains now and then a rare pitch of potency; the tale entitled “The Bad Lands” containing graduations of horror that strongly savour of genius. More whimsical and inclined toward the amiable and innocuous phantasy of Sir J.M. Barrie are the short tales of E.M. Forster, grouped under the title of The Celestial Omnibus. Of these only one, dealing with a glimpse of Pan and his aura of fright, may be said to hold the true element of cosmic horror. Mrs. H.D. Everett, though adhering to very old and conventional models, occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror in her collection of short stories. L.P. Hartley is notable for his incisive and extremely ghastly tale, “A Visitor from Down Under”. May Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories contain more of traditional occultism than of that creative treatment of fear which marks mastery in this field, and are inclined to lay more stress on human emotions and psychological delving than upon the stark phenomena of a cosmos utterly unreal. It may be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness than do those who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order.

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