The Fantastic and Forgotten, edited by Judika Illes (2016) – Usually when I review anthologies, I summarize individual stories and give an overall judgement, but this anthology is such a unique concept, I must discuss the entire anthology as a whole.
First of all, I’d never heard of Weiser Books who published this anthology. They publish occult, esoteric, speculative, and New Age works. This collection, however, publishes stories of forgotten authors from the 1800s, mostly English, and includes such surprising (and not forgotten) authors such as Bram Stoker (yes, that Bram Stoker), Oscar Wilde, H.P. Lovecraft, Mrs. Lovecraft (who knew there was a Mrs. Lovecraft?), Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats, and Edgar Allan Poe. What distinguishes these not forgotten writers is that we get some of their early works that truly have been forgotten.
The unknown writers, extraordinarily famous in their own times, are the real treasures. The editor, Judika Illes, introduces the anthology and gives a little biography of each writer (some quite tragic). Their stories introduce us to ghostly tales, vampires, mysteries, and dark underworlds before these subjects were stereotypes or tropes. These are the originals.
Okay, there are a couple stories I have to talk about. The Bram Stoker story is called “Dracula’s Tale” and is an actual, unused chapter from the famous novel. What struck me as remarkable was the deft and excellent writing. We of the new, American style of writing (I’ve heard it described as “cleaner”) have forgotten what it’s like to fill a story with atmosphere and first-person imperative. These men and women were accomplished masters of suspense and conflict. We could all take lessons.
Yes, Oscar Wilde. Aside from learning about the author’s sad demise, this story is brilliant. It reminded me of “The Ransom of Red Chief” as a colorful, American family moves into an English country home and give the bloody, menacing ghost a fright. Instead of scaring them witless or lifeless as it had done with earlier inhabitants, the nefarious villain is shaking in his boots when the terrible twins set up practical jokes. Fortunately, it has a happy ending.
H.P. Lovecraft and his wife, Sonia H. Greene, had a strange relationship that spilled over into their writing of nautical beasties early in their careers. Who was the creepier in this family dynamic?
Many of these authors were occultists themselves who used their knowledge and research to tell wonderful fictional stories. Whether a cursed young bride unable to resist the river running by her isolated home (“A Water Witch” by H.D. Everett), a play that drives whoever reads it mad (“The Yellow Sign” by Robert W. Chambers), or 16 other stories, all the unknown greats are contained in this anthology.
The only story I’d read beforehand was W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.” It was just as creepy as when I first read it, although it’s now over a hundred years old.
I recommend this anthology for anyone who likes a little creepiness in their reading and some excellent prose. Pour yourself a nice brandy, light the fireplace, and pay no attention to the trees scratching against the window panes.