Weird tales, literary studies and why S.T. Joshi rocks

American Supernatural Tales, ed. S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books (2007)
American Supernatural Tales, ed. S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books (2007)

My wife and I took in the James Bond exhibit at the Bell Lightbox tower, and in an effort to kill time before our scheduled 3:30 p.m. entrance, we sauntered over to a Chapters.

It was her intention to pick up her next novel for her book club, and in her search of The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, I found myself wandering over to the horror section.

My intention was to pick up Richard Matheson’s Hell House but going through the computer, I discovered there was only one in stock. Anyone who’s worked at Chapters knows that commonly means it’s out of stock, or some numbskull has misplaced it in another section.

Anyhow, I picked up a Penguin publication with a completely black cover, save for the wide-open maw of a black cat. It’s green eyes like jade daggers. So in interest, I picked up the volume, titled American Supernatural Tales. I flipped through its contents and discovered names aplenty: Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Bloch, Ambrose Bierce, and the aforementioned Matheson.

With such heavyweights of horror, I bought the book. Today, I read through the intro, written by editor S. T. Joshi. I was blown away by his essay, referring to horror as a literary scene and not some subculture genre.

As I read further my views of the genre, and it’s greats like Poe, Bierce and August Derleth, were brought to life. I’ve never read an essay raising the importance of the supernatural in literature before.

Joshi commented on how relegation of short stories ended up in pulp publications, and that the literati tend to guise their interest in the supernatural in strict social realism.

It was the first time I found a well respected person, an academic, talking about H.P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce and August Derleth with the respect they deserve. Joshi’s candor on Stephen King, and his oft clumsy prose, was refreshing. But he did not discredit the author’s intentions. He also let Dean R. Koontz have it, and rightly so because what he has done to horror is a horror onto itself.

I’d love to correspond with Joshi. Chat him up over pints about the whole Gothic scene and it’s American offspring. And really get his impression on the excessive amount of vampire, zombie pulp that seems to inundate the horror novel section.

That, and I’d like to commend him for thumbing his nose at the sanctimony of the literati.


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