Tag Archives: August Derleth

The Devil’s Generation: Bill’s Bookshelf No. 2

For the second installment of Bill’s Bookshelf, I’ve chosen another anthology, The Devil’s Generation (1973, Lancer Books, Inc.), edited by Vic Ghidalia. Each story involves kids, from an unborn baby to teenage punks and everything in between, but the book contains few, if any, actual stories about the devil. Satan was having a heyday in popular culture during the late 60s and early 70s, so the title was probably a way to cash in on that.

Hollywood was going through a phase in which they thought Frankenstein and Dracula were no longer scary, but that audiences could still be freaked out by Satanic themes. When Rosemary’s Baby came out in 1968, most of us knew Roman Polanski directed it, but the movie studio play down the fact that William Castle produced it, due to Castle’s past association with cheap, gimmicky films like The Tingler (1959) and Thirteen Ghosts (1960). I had just seen The Exorcist when I bought The Devil’s Generation, and I assumed Lancer Books was also cashing in on that blockbuster. But maybe not. The copyright date of Devil’s Generation is 1973. The Exorcist was released in December 1973. Maybe there was inside information, maybe not. Too close to call.

 By far, the best story in this collection is Call Him Demon, by Henry Kuttner, followed by The Other Wing, by Algernon Blackwood. I’ll save my commentary on those two tales until the end.

 The book features a number of authors who had become celebrities by 1973, but their stories here seem like knock-offs. For example, in 1971, Robert Silverberg won the Nebula Award for his novel, A Time of Change. His story in The Devil’s Generation anthology, Hole In the Air, first appeared in the January 1956 issue of Amazing and is no more than a variation on To Serve Man by Damon Knight, which first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction and became a well-known Twilight Zone episode in 1962.

The Richard Matheson also wrote a famous Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (the one about the Gremlin on the airplane wing with William Shatner). The Matheson selection in The Devil’s Generation is called Mother By Protest. It shares a few similarities with Rosemary’s Baby, but not as scary, and the pregnant woman discovers that she is  carrying the baby of a space alien instead of Satan’s child.

There isn’t much to say about Ray Bradbury’s story, Black Ferris, except for ‘How did it serve the story’s plot to have one of the kids sneak out of his house naked? Did the editor order up a carnival, a skeleton, and some nudity?’

Robert Bloch’s tale, Floral Arrangement, is about a mother and son who live in a house overlooking a cemetery. It first appeared in Weird Tales, eleven years before his more famous story about a mother and son living among taxidermied birds in the Bates Motel.

In The Place In the Woods, August Derleth attempts to do what M. R. James did much better in An Episode of Cathedral History; that is, use a mythological creature as the basis for a supernatural tale.  

Day of Truce, by Clifford D. Simak, begins promisingly and really held my attention with a build-up of suspense, but at the end, it fizzled out and didn’t go anywhere. It ended up as just one more meditation on man’s penchant for war.

I saved the best for last. Henry Kuttner’s Call Him Demon struck a chord in me as the most original and enjoyable of all the stories, allowing for suspension of disbelief and total immersion into the secret world of kids. These kids are aware that one of the adults in the house is not really what he seems, and his presence is somehow connected to a horrible meat-eating monster in another dimension, which can only be accessed through the dark, dusky attic.

About Henry Kuttner, Wikipedia tells us:

Marion Zimmer Bradley is among many authors who have cited Kuttner as an influence. Her novel The Bloody Sun is dedicated to him. Roger Zelazny has talked about the influence of The Dark World on his Amber series.

Kuttner’s friend Richard Matheson dedicated his 1954 novel I Am Legend to Kuttner, with thanks for his help and encouragement. Ray Bradbury likewise dedicated Dark Carnival, his first book, to him, calling him one of his hardest-working and most patient teachers; Bradbury has said that Kuttner actually wrote the last 300 words of Bradbury’s first horror story, “The Candle” (Weird Tales, November 1942). Bradbury has referred to Kuttner as a neglected master and a “pomegranate writer: popping with seeds — full of ideas”.[3]

William S. Burroughs‘s novel The Ticket That Exploded contains direct quotes from Kuttner regarding the “Happy Cloak” parasitic pleasure monster from the Venusian seas.

Finally, Algernon Blackwood’s The Other Wing is not scary, but it is such a nicely crafted, classic ghost story that I must give it a thumbs up.

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Bill’s Bookshelf: The Midnight People

The Midnight People
1968, Popular Library Edition,
Published by arrangement with Leslie Frewin Publishers Limited

Edited by Peter Haining

I bought this book, brand new off the shelf for 75 cents, in 1968 or 1969, when I was a teenager. While The Midnight People is ostensibly a vampire anthology, Editor Peter Haining chose to include a couple of stories in which the vampire tag is debatable. The book is stronger for those choices, however.

The cover features a painting by Hieronymus Bosch called Death and the Usurer, also known as Death of the Miser.

The Midnight People is an almost perfect example of the kind of books I loved to pore over when I was a kind, reading not only the stories, the introductions and front material, which usually included a list of when and where the stories first appeared (usually magazines), with copyright information and so on. The only reason this is not the perfect example of my collection is that it does not include the list of sources. Of course, that’s no problem, now that we have the internet.

After the Introduction, the collection begins with an article by Montague Summers (1880 – 1948) about real-life German serial killer Fritz Haarmann (1879 – 1925), who was known as “The Hanover Vampire” because he actually murdered his victims by biting into their throats.

Montague Summers was a strange character himself. He studied theology at Oxford, became a Deacon in the Church of England, then converted to Catholicism, and gave himself the title of Reverend, although historians have found no evidence that the Catholic Church ever officially ordained him as a priest. Summers had peculiar interests, ranging from occult (vampires, werewolves, and witches) to deviant sexual practices (the Marquis de Sade and the Greek chronicles of Antinous and Hadrian). In 1928, Summers published the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer’s 1486 treatise on witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches).

M. R. James’ An Episode of Cathedral History is one of my favorite supernatural stories, combining, as it does, James’ vague but chilling depiction of an undead thing escaping from a tomb under a church, with a storyline that literally defines the gothic horror genre. “It was in 1840 that the wave of the Gothic revival smote the Cathedral of Southminster,” says the old church caretaker, Mr. Worby, referring to the 19th Century fashion trend of restoring authentic gothic structures and by building new structures in a mock Gothic style. Worby explains that a church official, intent on having a Gothic style cathedral, ordered carpenters to remove most of the sanctuary’s beautiful handcrafted woodwork, including the podium, under which was discovered a stone slab that sealed the mysterious tomb.

Most people know the story of how John Polidori wrote The Vampyre as the result of a challenge by Lord Byron to a small circle of friends, which included Mary and Percy Shelley, to each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley eventually wrote Frankenstein (1818) as a result of that challenge, and Polidori wrote The Vampyre (1819). This was not the first vampire story ever written, but it was probably the first one written in English, and it set the now-familiar image of the vampire as aristocrat – a cloaked lord or nobleman, Byronic, decadent, and darkly romantic.

Editor Peter Haining tells us that Bat’s Belfry is one of August Derleth’s first horror stories, containing “certain elementary mistakes which can be expected from any young writer.” This is a whopping understatement. It’s a silly hodge-podge of supernatural motifs. I should add that I greatly admire Mr. Derleth for his industrious achievment, along with Donald Wandrei, of establishing Arkham House Publishers, a classic small press success story. I simply don’t know why Haining chose to include this story, unless it was for Derleth’s name recognition among the H. P. Lovecraft fans.

I’m as exciting about ebooks and their possibilities as most other modern publishers and readers, but sometimes it is still fun to consider the print book as art and artifact. I hope to make “Bill’s Bookshelf” a regular feature here at Bill Ectric’s Place.

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