The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Title: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Publisher (read edition): Del Rey

Lovecraft is one of those writers that you either love or hate. But despite how you feel about him, it is undeniable his influence on modern dark fiction. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is an example of all of that. One of the backbone stories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, it tells the tale of the eponymous character in his research into an ancient relative with a sinister history. True to a trait of any Lovecraft story, the search for knowledge that humankind is not ready for leads to disastrous and disturbing fates.

What a lot of people don’t care for about Lovecraft is the writing, mostly the tendency to write in a more archaic tone and vocabulary. It the first third of the book, it is one of the heaviest uses of that style, and is the weakest point in the story. Now, it makes sense since he trying to write about events between the Salem witch trials and the American Revolution. But it is a style that, even in the 1920’s and 30’s was uncommon to read, let alone today.

But if you can get through that section, you do read a great, disturbing tale. Lovecraft proved, in this and other stories, that the terrors you can’t seen are the most terrifying. Through the rest of the book sounds of uncanny and weird goings-on are a subtle soundtrack. Lovecraft, despite the prose, does manage to show how the atmosphere affect the characters. Now, we do see somethings, like the degradation of Ward’s appearance and mind, but also of “specimens” and other arcane elements that Lovecraft never gives a full picture of. Many say it is to let the reader fill in the blanks and create their own terror. But he was just staying true to something he believed: There are just something humans cant comprehend because we are so small in comparison to the rest of the universe. By trying to describe the unknowable is to state you think you do know it. In that way, the terrors of this and other Lovecraft stories are possibly the most terrifying in literature.

The ending my feel predictable, but then, this kind of mystery has been used in different genres so many times since The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was first published. And it still affected by the style of writing that emphasis of dramatic middles with a falling action, ending in a dénouement like the greek and Shakespearean dramas. While a major influence of modern fiction, it can’t be read like modern fiction. That wasn’t Lovecraft’s intent.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, while not an introductory story for Lovecraftian tales, is still a key text to what it means to be Lovecraftian.

Horror Reader Level: Intermediate

Ante Mortem

Title: Ante Mortem
Editor: Jodi Lee
Publisher: Belfire Press

Ante Mortem is a good collection of authors that are the newest guard of the horror genre. All the stories are about the those last moments before dies, either physically or metaphorically. I’m sure there are many out there that think that this would be mostly characters getting killed my some kind of murderer or monster. While those are in there, I have to give credit to the number or ways that theme was used that weren’t. Stories like “Tiny Fingers,” “Hit the Wall,” and “Fetching Narissa” are probably the favorites for that reason. In “Tiny Finger,” Aaron Polson writes a classic ghost tale, but with an ending that could only happen modern times. It is also an ending that you would not expect in most tales of any genre, for the most part. David Dunwoody’s “Hitting the Wall” creeps into that lovecraftian realm of cosmic horror (not “outer space” cosmic but “large and unknowable to human perception” cosmic) with the antagonist being Nature itself. But I would say top billing would go to “Fetching Narissa” where David Chrisom wrote the only story without a physical death in it. I think it is a more chilling and stronger story for it.

There is good cross over appeal in some of these stories. For instance, “Hitting the Wall” is a dark sci-fi story with its Mother Nature antagonist. “The Dubious Magic of Elliot Prince” could easily be read and enjoyed by the Urban Fantasy audience. It, along with “Beauty Ritual” are also stories that deal with gay characters.

What they all have in common is interesting new takes on many classic conventions and tropes of horror that seem original and not just rehashes. You like zombies? Gina Ranalli is your woman to read. Werewolves? “Territory” is your story. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.

All and all, the highs and lows of the book even each other out, leaving a fairly even reading experience in the end. A solid anthology collection that an horror or non-horror reader can enjoy fully.

Horror Reader Level:
“Tiny Fingers” by Aaron Polson: Beginner
“The Good Friend” by Natalie L. Sin: Intermediate
“To Serve the Beginning” by Gina Ranalli: Intermediate
“Hit the Wall” by David Dunwoody: Intermediate
“From the Bowels” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge: Fan
“The Dubious Magic of Elliot Prince” by K.V. Taylor: Intermediate
“Hunger Pains” by Myrrym Davies: Beginner
“Fetching Narissa” by David Chrisom: Beginner
“Beauty Ritual” by John Grover: Intermediate
“Territory” by Kelly M. Hudson: Intermediate
“A Little Help in the Kitchen” by Jeff Parish: Fan

Average Reader Level: Intermediate

Women In Horror Month: Shades of Blood and Shadow

Title: Shades of Blood and Shadow
Author: Angeline Hawkes
Publisher: Dark Regions Press

When it comes to horror, the breadth of subject matter is limited only to the imagination of the writer. But, even with that large spectrum to choose from, there are subjects that tend to be missed or glossed over for the most part. One of them is history. There are some out there that write historical horror, but the ratio of them to everyone else is very low. Shades of Blood and Shadow is one of those few. Stories steeped in historical context or settings fills most of this collection. Hawkes has a great way of either writing stories within historical settings or creating the stories that are her truth that started the myths and folk lore we know. “Fallen” was a great example as a story about one of the fallen angels that rebelled against God with Lucifer. “The Relic: Father Santiago’s Bones” takes place during the Spanish Inquisition.

While most of these stories are supernatural, it doesn’t take away for the killing fact of some of the horrors that humanity has caused. “The Tour Guide” shows the fact that the scientifically advanced culture of the Mayans still had a barbarous side. “All Becomes As Wormwood” looks at the possibilities in the ruins of Chernobyl. Both historical insights to the fact that even with all our advancements, enlightenment, and knowledge, humans can still cause horrors. Sometimes we mean to. Others are completely accidental. But many times it is because we are too sure of ourselves. That pride in ourselves, our thoughts and beliefs, are usually the main culprit in the most terrifying moments of our past and present.

Horror Reading Level:

Samhain: Beginner
The Relic: Father Santiago’s Bones: Fan
All Becomes As Wormwood: Intermediate
The Heir: Fan
Opportunity: Intermediate
The Highwayman of Epping Forest: Fan
Last Breath: Intermediate
Incident Beside the Striped Tent: What the Fruit Seller Saw: Fan
The Piper of Glamis Hill: Intermediate
El Reptil Rey: Intermediate
The Tour Guide: Fan
The Woe Tale of Fiona MacLean: Beginner
Fallen: Intermediate

Average Rating: Intermediate